As the leader of Bahrain's human rights movement hovers between life and death amidst a 67-day hunger strike against government autocracy, the lieutenants of this tiny country's self-appointed king are doubling down on their pitch that the oil-rich monarchy the ideal place for Formula One Racing despite more than a year of violent unrest.
That unrest, which led to widespread arrests, torture, and more than 60 deaths, led to the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011. The issue now is whether the 2012 race will ever happen. It is expected to bring $300 million into the country.
But while the race promoters and the government -- and their PR machines -- are trumpeting the thrills and fun of Formula One Racing, Bahrain's human rights community, and some of the Grand Prix drivers, have taken an opposite view.
They charge that Bahrain remains a serial violator of human rights despite promises of reform and shouldn't be hosting high-profile sporting events.
This week, David Rosenberg of The Media Line reported:
"A flurry of reports and petitions and other measures are on the way this week in a last-ditch effort to block the Formula One race scheduled for April 20-22. But Bahrain's rulers are ahead so far: The Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of motor sports, broke its silence in the matter and on Friday gave the go-ahead for the race to proceed on schedule.
"There is a lot more at stake than being first past the checkered flag. The chronic unrest and the government crackdown has put Bahrain into the crosshairs of the global human rights movement and weighed heavily on the economy. Staging a successful race would signal that the country's problems are behind it and, according to the race's local organizers, will pump almost $300 million into the economy and create the equivalent of 400 full-time jobs."
But the Arab-Spring uprising of Bahrain's Shiite majority against their Sunni monarch is still in full swing, despite reports to the contrary in the state-owned press. On Friday, the group organizing the race said in a statement that it should go ahead as scheduled.
But on the same day, Media Line reported that a 14-year-old boy was shot in the chest and another youth was in critical condition after being beaten during clashes between police and mourners. They were attending the funeral of a man shot during anti-government protests two weeks earlier.
Last week an explosion injured at least seven policemen in Ekar, south of the capital of Manama, a place where security forces and protesters frequently clash. In response, last Wednesday, mobs with iron rods and sticks ransacked a supermarket belonging to a major Shiite-owned business group.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said the authorities were cracking down on opposition protestors ahead of the race, staging arrests and attacking demonstrators that he alleged was intended to ensure they were still convalescing by the time the Grad Prix begins, April 20.
He said peaceful and legal protests are planned during the race even as he held out hope that the last minute campaign would convince the race organizers to cancel.
"They have put profits and their interests before human rights. The situation [in Bahrain] has worsened. The number of people who were killed from the beginning of the year till now is more than people killed last year," Rajab told The Media Line. If the race goes as planned, it will earn an image as the "a sport of dictators'," he added.
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) reported over the weekend on the condition of Abdulhadi Abdulla Al-Khawaja, whose hunger strike reached its 67 th day. The report advised the Bahraini authorities and Alkhawaja's legal representative that Al-Khawaja is at risk of death if the hunger strike continues for any extended period. The government should also restate a commitment to ethical health care for Mr. Abdulhadi Abdulla Al-Khawaja while he is refusing food, including a commitment not to force feed him.
It said that, despite the ill-treatment to which Abdulhadi Abdulla Al-Khawaja has been subjected and the effects of prolonged food refusal, he should be able to recover from his period of fasting if he agrees to take food voluntarily very soon. On the other hand, he could suffer a serious downturn in health if he continues to refuse food, with death being imminent after more than nine weeks of hunger strike.