More on Bahrain

15 Feb

With yesterday having been the 1 year anniversary of the Bahraini protests, it was inevitable that the spotlight was going to turn back on the political situation there.

Since I last wrote about Bahrain there has been a number of developments. UK politicians have written to The Times newspaper arguing both for and against the F1 Grand Prix going ahead. 7 Lords and 1 MP made the case for the race being called off due to ongoing human rights issues, whereas the All Party Parliamentary Working Group for Bahrain argued that the race should go ahead in order to allow Bahrain the opportunity to demonstrate that things have improved.

If you’ve read my previous articles on Bahrain then you’ll be in little doubt about who I agree with on this. It dismays me that a group of our MPs are naive enough to think that any such demonstration from the Bahraini authorities during a race weekend would be a fair representation of how things truly are.

One political story not so widely reported on is a letter that the Bahraini Foreign Minister wrote to British Foreign Secretary William Hague asking him to silence Labour back-bench MP Denis McShane, who regularly speaks out on foreign human rights issues. McShane has written an article about this in today’s Independent: Funny how a back bench MP in a different country can get under the skin of a foreign government…

There’s also been reports this week that John Yates, a former Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has been contracted by the Bahrain government to advise on police reform. Yates himself has said that police reform takes time. Successful police reform takes many, many years, and its ultimate success usually also requires a change of government and/or an independent police force.

With the anniversary of the ‘day of rage’ now passed, it is hard to tell how the security situation will develop. The Foreign Office website is not advising against travel to Bahrain but does urge visitors to be extremely vigilant. Sunni and Shia tensions in the region are increasing, and the main risk now is foreign powers meddling. Last night’s report on the situation on the BBC’s Newsnight concluded with the statement “time is running out for this tiny country sitting on a dangerous sectarian fault line”.

Bernie Ecclestone has stated again this week that the grand prix should go ahead unless the Bahraini’s advise him that the race should be cancelled, and the FIA are continuing to maintain their position from Todt and Hill’s fact-finding mission earlier in the year. There’s a continued belief within the F1 ‘powers that be’ that sport and politics should not mix, and that any decision about the race proceeding will be based solely on security. Bernie and Jean can say this until they are blue in the face, but it has become a political issue.

While online at lunchtime today, a completely different headline caught my eye on the BBC news website; the visit of Chinese Vice-President, Xi Jinping, to the White House. The BBC website states that:

“Mr Xi’s trip comes amid concerns over a clampdown by Beijing on protests in Tibet. Human rights activists staged a protest outside the White House as China’s vice-president arrived.

“On critical issues like human rights we will continue to emphasise what we believe is the importance of recognising the aspirations and rights of all people,” Mr Obama added.

During a state department lunch later, Mr Xi said there had been “tremendous” achievements for China in human rights in the past 30 years, adding “of course there’s always room for improvement”. 

The political situations in the two countries are very different, but the human rights infringements for political prisoners we are reading about in Bahrain are really not that different from their counterparts in China. Safety is not a concern in Shanghai, but anyone calling for the Bahrain race to be called off on human rights grounds should really also be doing the same for China.

I am sure that the Bahrain F1 debate will roll on for weeks to come.


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