Sakhir, Bahrain - Human rights remain a major problem in Bahrain, rights group Amnesty International says ahead of the latest Formula One race scheduled there for the weekend.
The F1 action will go ahead as planned, three years after political unrest in the country forced the cancellation of the race held there since 2004.
The return in 2012 was accompanied by huge criticism, and currently two women protesters have to stand trial on terrorism charges after allegedly trying to enter the F1 circuit during protests last year.
Amnesty said last week the suspects have told the Bahrain High Criminal Court court they were tortured, and the trial has been adjourned until April 16.
“The human rights situation is very precarious,” Regina Spoettl, Amnesty's German section co-ordinator for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, told dpa on Tuesday.
Further protests are reportedly planned around the upcoming race in an uprising which started in 2011 in a quest for more political freedom, equality for the Shia population, and general reforms from the governing Sunni Al-Khalifa.
Clashes between security forces and protesters still occur, and Amnesty has said that 50 people were convicted in connection with protests around the 2013 F1 race in a trial which according to them “fell far short of international standards for fair trial.”
“More than three years since the uprising in Bahrain and the subsequent fanfare of reform, prisoners of conscience remain behind bars and the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are still being suppressed,” Amnesty said on its website.
Spoettl warned that the local government was using the F1 race to demonstrate normality in the country.
“Every major sports event has a strong political aspect and is used by governments to highlight the respective country and its own policy,” Spoettl said. She added that Amnesty wants to use the F1 race to draw attention to the ongoing wrongs and had wished that “the Formula One circus had argued in the same direction and made a statement concerning the bad human rights situation.”
But critical voices are not expected in the paddock from drivers and teams who are in a difficult situation owing to sponsorship contracts.
However, they are aware of the situation despite spending most of the time in the heavily guarded F1 bubble, with world champion Sebastian Vettel naming it “not nice, of course” last year.
The ruling body FIA, for its part, refuses to be drawn into the political debate.
“The reality is that no international sporting federation has the authority to become involved in any political conflict of any kind,” FIA president Jean Todt told British paper The Guardian recently.
“The decision to hold a competition in any given country is based above all upon the desire to foster and promote the development of motorsport around the world.”