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Bahrain Grand Prix: Four people arrested for protesting Formula One

Two Bahraini women, both alleged victims of torture, and two men arrested on Sunday for protesting near F1 race
A driver goes past Sakhir Tower at the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on 5 March 2023 (AFP)
A driver goes past Sakhir Tower at the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on 5 March 2023 (AFP)

Four people were arrested near the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday for peacefully protesting and demanding the release of political prisoners, according to the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird).

Former political prisoners Hajer Mansoor and Najah Yusuf were among those arrested. Yusuf told Middle East Eye that they were then "treated inhumanely" by a senior police officer.

"The officer described us as criminals, belittled and disrespected us with such an inappropriate description," Yusuf said.

'For protesting F1 in 2017, I was beaten, tortured and served two years in prison'

- Najah Yusuf, Bahraini protester

The two Bahraini women were both imprisoned and allegedly tortured in 2017 after protesting against Formula One’s presence in the kingdom. 

The two men arrested alongside them on Sunday were Ali Muhana and Muneer Mushaima. 

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Muhana is the father of a Bahraini political prisoner, Husain Muhana. Mushaima is the brother of Sami Mushaima, a Shia man executed by the Gulf kingdom in 2017. Redha Mushaima, Muneer’s other brother, is currently in prison in Bahrain. 

The arrest happened at Formula Petrol Station, which is just a few metres away from the Bahrain International Circuit, where Sunday’s race took place. 

Video footage showed the protesters being surrounded by police cars, with one of the demonstrators reporting that there were seven police vehicles present before the arrests took place at 6.24pm local time. 

Najah Yusuf had been holding a sign that read: “For protesting F1 in 2017, I was beaten, tortured and served two years in prison. I am still dismissed from my job. Meanwhile, F1 makes millions from our suffering. Shame on them.”

Hajer Mansoor’s sign read: “My son Sayed Nizar completed six years of his arbitrary sentence this week. He was arrested when he was 18 and subjected to harrowing torture. The UN called for his release. @F1 shame on you for refusing to meet torture victims.”   

Bahrain GP protest
The four protesters were arrested close to the site of Bahrain's Grand Prix (Supplied)

In October last year, both women filed a legal complaint against F1 saying it had breached the human rights standards it pledged to follow by hosting the Grand Prix in Bahrain.

After being held for around two and a half hours at Eastern Riffa police station, Bahraini authorities confiscated the protesters’ signs and took their IDs.

According to Bird, the most senior police officer present shouted at Yusuf and Mansoor, asking them why they protested and calling Mansoor’s son, who is in prison, a criminal. 

The police officer branded both women criminals and officers went on to say that Ali Muhana’s son deserved to be held in isolation for over 200 days. 

The protesters were asked to sign a plea stating that they will not take part in any unauthorised protests, then police returned their IDs and released them. It is unclear if charges will be pressed against them or not.

In a statment, Bahrain's government said: “No arrests have been made in relation to the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix 2023, and no one was detained. Four individuals were requested to disperse by uniformed police and acceded to the request.”

Political prisoners

Bahrain continues to imprison its population at the highest rate of any country in the Middle East, with an estimated 1,300 political prisoners in a country of half a million. Formula One has held races in Bahrain since 2004.

Since 2017, Bahraini authorities have banned all independent media in the country and dissolved all significant opposition groups, according to Human Rights Watch.

Prior to the arrests, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of Bird, took a call with the protesters and posted a short video on Twitter. 

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In it, Muneer Mushaima is heard chanting “we demand the release of prisoners”, while Najah Yusuf shouts “we demand our basic rights, shame on Formula One for racing in Bahrain and making millions in profit at the cost of our suffering”. 

Middle East Eye wrote to the Bahraini embassy in London asking for comment. 

Alwadaei said the arrests had come “after we received assurances from Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali that protesting the race will not result in reprisals”. 

On Friday, John McDonnell, Britain’s former shadow chancellor, told Middle East Eye: “The presence of F1 gives the impression that Bahrain is somehow a normal state. Its abuse of human rights means it certainly isn't. No sport should be providing this regime with any credibility.” 

F1 and the FIA have not responded to MEE's request for comment.

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