With three weeks to go before Bahrain is set to host a Formula One Grand Prix, a 22-year old man died filming a protest against the race. Witnesses said Ahmed Ismael Abdulsamad was shot in the leg by security forces, who were using tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd. He bled to death in a village outside the capital, Manama. The government denied responsibility, saying the bullet came from an unidentified suspect in a moving vehicle. #Bloody F1 and #NoF1 immediately began trending on Twitter, where many Bahrainis are active.
The race had to be canceled last February after an uprising started against the Sunni monarchy of this majority-Shi’a nation. Human rights activists have called on F1 to withdraw from this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, one of the most popular races on F1’s calendar, saying a boycott will tarnish the international reputation of Bahrain’s repressive government. But F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has said the event will go ahead as planned—and the decision has nothing to do with money.
Meanwhile, Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and an outspoken advocate of an F1 boycott, was released from jail. He’ll likely face trial for organizing “illegal” demonstrations.
The turmoil doesn’t seem likely to die down anytime soon. Multiple demonstrations are being held today to protest the life sentence given to Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human-rights activist who’s been on a hunger strike for more than fifty days. Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Maryam, said yesterday that her father might not live much longer.
Street battles are an almost every-day occurrence in Manama and its surrounding villages, and the police are routinely accused of violence and torture. Bahrain’s government blames the uprising on thugs and radical Islamists sponsored by Iran. The United States, which docks its 5th Fleet in Bahrain, has been reluctant to put heavy pressure on King Hamad. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), along with three other American Congressmen, are currently in Bahrain on a “cultural affairs” mission while John Timoney, former police chief of Miami and Philadelphia, has been hired by the government to help reform its troubled police force.