Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Please cancel #Bahrain #F1 coverage"

With pressure mounting on Formula One to pull out of the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, activists are beginning to target the organisations around the race. Earlier today, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other Bahrain activists wrote a letter to the BBC and Sky --- who hold the broadcasting rights for the race --- calling on them not to broadcast the events on moral grounds. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Ala'a Shehabi said of the campaign:
Formula One is all about advertising, marketing, it's more about the commercial side than the actual sport itself.
So we know that in broadcasting, you're encouraging all of the commercial interests in the sport which puts finance over human rights. That is what the major moral issue is here. If we can target the broadcasters, we can at least cut some of the possibility of profits made from advertising, at least.
The full text of the letter:

April 12 2012
Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC

Jeremy Darroch, Chief Executive, Sky
Barney Francis, Managing Director, Sky Sports

We are writing to ask you to consider canceling your planned televised coverage of the Formula One race in Bahrain on moral grounds and in consideration of the thousands of victims of state atrocities over the past year. On this small island, 85 people have been killed by security forces, and there are around 600 political prisoners. The majority of the people will not be watching or enjoying the race. In fact they will see it as a provocation.

If the race is held, Formula One will be demonstrating a willing complicity between themselves and the repressive Bahrain government, a regime which is currently being condemned on a daily basis for its continued crimes against its own citizens by organisations from the UN, to the European Parliament, to Amnesty International and even, today, the White House.

The Bahrain regime is openly using the forthcoming Grand Prix as a public relations spectacle for Western audiences, as a means of concealing its utter disregard for human rights, international law and the reforms its own commission (the BICI report) made in the wake of last years atrocities. We call on you to consider whether you truly want to join in that complicity. Do you really wish to partake in the propaganda of a regime which routinely rejects visas to news organisations who seek to see for themselves the reality on the ground?

A fortnight ago, citizen journalist Ahmed Ismael Hassan AlSamadi was shot and killed by a gunman firing from a car. Instead of aiding and supporting his family at the hospital, police stood by, filming their suffering, and the government has refused to write his cause of death as a gunshot wound injury. Several witnesses were then arrested and subsequently threatened with rape if they gave testimony. The Director General of UNESCO and others have called for an investigation into Ahmed's killing. As a media organisation, do you really want to assist a regime that treats journalists in such a manner?

Whilst the regime and its agents, like John Yates and Jackie Stewart, have been telling the world that the country is safe and stable, Bahraini citizens remain subject to nightly teargassing, beatings, arrests and even death at the hands of security. Last month, the UN human rights office called for an investigation into the "civilians who died from tear gas" which account for around a third of the over eighty deaths that have occurred since February 14th 2011. Furthermore, there is a growing threat from militias, protected by regime forces, responsible for increasing sectarian violence against villagers.

Sadly this is not new. Last year, the head of security at the Bahrain International Circuit, where the Formula One is due to be held, reportedly assisted plain-clothed police by providing a list of the twenty-seven employees who worked at its offices. Those offices were raided and the employees were reportedly beaten, with many subsequently arrested, detained and tortured. Do you really want officials responsible of doing this to the very employees who organize the race every year, to basque in the magnanimity of holding such an event?

This is hardly the "unity" which public relations firms are being paid thousands to propagandise to the West. Rather, it is the unreported everyday reality for countless thousands of Bahraini citizens who protest daily for fairness, democracy and a life free from repression.

Finally, if you do cover the event, just remember, that while you broadcast images of joy and celebration, there are thousands of people on the island living in anger and misery. While you enjoy the live concerts and dance, think of the families of the 85 people killed by the government, and the 600 prisoners of conscience. While you lavishly consume canap├ęs and champagne, think of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja who is dying of hunger.

Please reconsider the morality of your actions in covering the F1. There is a great lie being told about Bahrain. Any ethical media organisation should resist being complicit in perpetuating it.

Nabeel Rajab

Maryam Al-khawaja

Zainab Al-khawaja

Dr Ala'a Shehabi

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other Bahraini activists