Unrest, Violence, and Arrests In Lead Up to Grand Prix Race in Bahrain: A Timeline of Events

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters blocked a major road in Bahrain ahead of Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix in the Gulf kingdom. Some in the crowd carried banners with the slogan: “Don’t race on our blood.”

BBC Sport

Over the last week, there have been major protests in Bahrain about and leading up to tomorrow’s Grand Prix race there:

Ala’a Shehabi, leader of activist group Bahrain Watch, told The Daily Telegraph: “Most people in Bahrain feel as though they have no voice and no share in Formula One. It is a sport of the wealthy and the privileged. This is why they are protesting. At least 225 journalists have been banned from entering Bahrain in the past year because the government object to the tone of Western coverage of what is happening.”

The government of Bahrain has been arresting people who live near the site of the race over the last month in anticipation of protests.

A casual cyclist on bike (he is wearing a button-down shirt and has no helmet) is riding out of the picture on the right side. There is a white building in the background. And on a wall on the left side, there is a graffiti of a bloody indie car with an picture of the king of Bahrain as the driver. It says on the wall above the car, "Boycott Formula 1 in Bahrain"

Protest: a cyclist in the village of Barbar rides past graffiti opposing the staging of the Bahrain Grand Prix in Manama. Image from Getty via The Telegraph.

There have been some violent protests but “Bahrain’s main opposition bloc has called for peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations to be stepped up before the race, saying the global spotlight shone on the kingdom by the Grand Prix would help showcase its message of reform.” [via]

According to the AP (via Yahoo), “Responding to several rights groups concerned about the race, Jean Todt, the president of F1A, the governing body of world motor sports that includes Formula 1, said in an email that it is “our firm belief that sports, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress.””

“Bahrain pays £26 million a year to host this race, with a recent survey by polling giant Nielsen concluding that 77 per cent of the population were in favour of Formula One coming here,” according to the Telegraph. “That figure was hard to square with the young men who felt strongly enough yesterday to torch tyres and to daub graffiti on the walls of Manama which read, “Our blood is our sacrifice to the nation” and “It is my right to choose my destiny”.”

The race is scheduled for tomorrow, Sunday, April 21.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

A timeline of events thus far:


  • “There have been almost daily clashes in Bahrain since security forces used birdshot and tear gas to quash a three-day-old peaceful protest at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout on 17 February 2011. As violence escalated 35 people, including five police officers, were killed, and hundreds more were hurt and jailed in February and March 2011. Since then, opposition and human rights activists say more than 50 people have died, a figure which the government disputes.” [via]
  • “The race at the Sakhir desert circuit was cancelled in 2011 when protests were crushed and at least 35 people were killed. Activists put the death toll far higher. Last year’s race went ahead against a backdrop of burning tyres and riot police firing teargas at protesters throwing petrol bombs in Shi’ite Muslim villages.” [via] The BBC says that the cancellation of the race followed “the forced clearance of a Manama landmark, Pearl Roundabout. In the unrest that followed more than 50 people died, hundreds were arrested and thousands dismissed from their jobs.”
  • “One man died last year near the scene of the demonstrations.” He was shot dead by police. [via]

April 14: “On Sunday a car bomb blew up in the heart of the financial district in the capital Manama, though without causing injuries. An opposition group calling itself the February 14 movement has said it was behind the blast.”

April 15, during the day:

  • Officers stormed the Jabreya school for boys after students staged a protest demanding the release of a colleague arrested on Monday, activists say. Wefaq says more than 100 people have been arrested this month, many from villages close to the site of the race.And Amnesty International has condemned what it called a “crackdown” on protests ahead of the race. [via]
  • “Security forces…fired tear gas into a Bahraini high school to break up a student protest against the detention of a schoolmate overnight. Police were accused by local human rights groups of beating students in schools in the capital Manama and the district of Sanad, while a journalist from Monte Carlo was threatened with having her permit revoked for reporting the incidents.” [via]
  • “the All-Party Parliamentary Group in Bahrain yesterday cited “the most atrocious human rights violations” as a reason why the Formula One event should be called off, in a letter signed by 20 MPs.” [via]

April 15, at night: “Around 200 people gathered in the village of Barbar, 15 miles outside Manama,..to protest against Bahrain’s hosting of the grand prix and the perceived culture of police brutality. The demonstrators held banners with messages including “F1: do we race on other people’s blood?” and “This race is taking place on the ground of our martyrs, our political prisoners and our wounded.””

April 16: “A group of British MPs have followed up an early day motion in the House of Commons with a letter to Bernie Ecclestone calling on the Formula One supremo to cancel this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The letter, from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain, cites ‘the most atrocious human rights violations’ as reason the race should be called off and has been signed by 20 MPs.”

April 17:

  • “The main opposition society in Bahrain has called for a major demonstration ahead of Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix race in the Gulf kingdom. Khalil al Marzooq, a senior Al Wefaq leader, told the BBC that the protest would take place along a major motorway, Budaiya Highway on Friday.” [via]
  • “Bahrain’s state news agency said…that authorities had arrested a man who later confessed to an incident in which a car burned and exploded in the country’s financial district on Apr 14. Four other people accused of stealing and burning a car near a roundabout were also arrested and another person was detained over an accusation he blocked a main road and caused damage to a Bahraini’s car.” [via]

April 18:

  • “Organizers of Bahrain’s Grand Prix said…that sporadic protests against the race and violent unrest across the Gulf nation do not pose a threat to the premier international event in the kingdom.” [via]
  • “We still have problems, but let’s not politicise the race,” urged Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, as demonstrations persisted on the outskirts of the capital Manama. Amid a heightened security presence in disaffected Shia communities, the crown prince, Bahrain’s deputy prime minister, said: “We have had a rough time with the press. Our main problems are centred around two clear issues: civil rights and law and order. Those two things can be in opposition to one another or they can go hand in hand. We need to make sure that we bring the diverse elements of the country together.”” [via]
  • “There were clashes much of Thursday between stone-throwing protesters and riot police firing bird shot and tear gas, said Yousef al-Muhafedha, acting president of the Bahrain Human Rights Center. Thirteen people were detained and three were injured, he said.” [via]

April 19:

  • “The travel of journalists has been closely monitored by the authorities this week, with police patrol cars installed on every stretch of motorway, and the ITN team of five led were last night ordered to leave Bahrain after trying to report on the violent clashes. An ITV spokeswoman confirmed that they had all been issued with media visas, highly difficult to obtain here outside grand prix week, but had since been detained and “asked to leave the country”.” [via]
  • “Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters blocked a major road in Bahrain ahead of Sunday’s F1 Grand Prix in the Gulf kingdom. Some in the crowd carried banners with the slogan: “Don’t race on our blood.” The rally along Budaiya Highway followed a night of heavy clashes between demonstrators and security forces.” [via]
  • “Skirmishes were reported in Sitra, Sanabis, Aali, Jidhafs and Buri.” [via]

April 20:

  • “Bahraini protesters clashed with police into Saturday’s early hours a day ahead of a Formula One race that the island kingdom’s opposition hopes will draw attention to its campaign for democracy.Young men blocked roads, burned tires and threw rocks at security forces who fired teargas in several villages around the capital Manama on Friday night, human rights activists and witnesses said.” [via]
  • “In his sprawling first-floor office above the Sakhir paddock, as several thousand pro-democracy protesters lined the Budoiya highway in nearby Manama, Formula One’s 82-year-old generalissimo perceived not the slightest reason why the race should not go ahead. “I haven’t seen any of the people here wanting to go to Syria or Saudi Arabia,” Ecclestone said with a shrug. “There are lots of places they could go – Iran, if they wanted. But they seem happy to stay.”” [via]
  • “Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix from Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Rosberg beat Vettel by 0.254 seconds with Alonso a further 0.083secs behind.” [via]

April 21: From Bleacher Report, Formula 1: 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix Worldwide Broadcast, Broadband and Radio Info

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One thought on “Unrest, Violence, and Arrests In Lead Up to Grand Prix Race in Bahrain: A Timeline of Events

  1. The FIA/FOM statement is a cop out. These protests have been happening for years, and the notion that a Grand Prix will “heal” the situation is ludicrous. The opposition could all buy tickets, enjoy the race weekend, and then when they went home on Sunday their grievances against their government would still be there. And they’re not stupid; F1 is the third most-watched sporting event on TV on Earth after the World Cup and the Olympics, so they know there’s no better time to try and get their voice out there than when the world is watching.

    The avoidance of Bernie and the FIA taking a stand is really all about money. Of course you could easily argue that if they were to cancel the Bahrain GP due to human rights violations, then they’d also have to cancel the US GP, the Chinese GP, all of the European races, etc to not be hypocrites. But it’s a bit different when you have the royal family writing the checks and stomping on their opponents’ civil rights literally right outside of the circuit.

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