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Bahrain accused of pre-Grand Prix arrests

Plainclothes police officers have arrested 20 people so far in raids in towns around the Gulf state's Sakhir circuit, the New York-based watchdog said.

Agence France-Presse  |  Last updated on Wednesday, 10 April 2013 16:18 Print font size - +

Dubai:  Bahrain has been rounding up pro-democracy activists ahead of its controversial staging of the April 21 Formula One Grand Prix two years after a bloody crackdown, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Plainclothes police officers have arrested 20 people so far in raids in towns around the Gulf state's Sakhir circuit, the New York-based watchdog said.

"Bahraini authorities are carrying out home raids and arbitrarily detaining opposition protesters in advance of the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend," it said.

"These raids and detentions suggest that officials are more concerned with getting activists out of circulation for the Formula 1 race than with addressing the legitimate grievances that have led so many Bahrainis to take to the streets," said HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"The Bahraini authorities have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those attending the Formula 1 Grand Prix, but that should not extend to arresting people for exercising their legitimate rights to free speech and assembly," Whitson said.

"Night-time raids of targeted people by masked officers who show neither arrest nor search warrants appear intended to intimidate them, their families and their supporters."

Sunni-ruled Bahrain was rocked by month-long pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom's Shiite majority in early 2011 that were crushed with the help of Saudi-led troops.

Last year's Bahrain Grand Prix was accompanied by a week of angry Shiite-led protests but demonstrators stayed away from the desert circuit and the race passed off without incident.

A total of 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since the protests erupted in February 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

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Story first published on: Wednesday, 10 April 2013 16:14

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