This weekend, Bahrain will host the Formula One Grand Prix. But behind the shiny fast cars and super-sized champagne bottles lies a government that is willing to stop at nothing to punish those who dare to speak out about the tragic human rights situation in the country.
Here are five facts you should know about the Gulf Kingdom ahead of one of the most glamorous events in the sporting calendar.
1. Demonstrating in the capital, Manama, is strictly forbidden
Public protests in Bahrain’s capital have been banned for nearly two years. Even outside Manama, security forces frequently use tear gas and birdshot pellets to disperse anyone who dares to demonstrate, often resulting in protesters being injured or even killed.
2. Criticizing the authorities on Twitter or other social media sites can land you in jail
The Bahraini authorities often use broad national security charges such as “inciting hatred against” or “threatening to overthrow the government”, “insulting” the King and other official institutions against activists and others who post comments critical of their policies on social media.
3. If authorities don’t like the work of an organization, they can just shut it down
New laws recently introduced allow the Bahraini government to suspend or shut down any political association for alleged “irregularities” and human rights organizations live under the threat of a restrictive draft NGO law. They have even levelled charges against political activists for meeting with representatives of foreign governments.
4. For the many activists who end up in detention, torture is commonplace
We have documented dozens of cases of detainees being brutally beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burnt with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, electrocuted, including on the genitals, and burnt with an iron to try and force them to “confess” to crimes. One such detainee told us he was struck with the claw of a hammer on several parts of his body. Another said he was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus.
These shocking abuses are very rarely or adequately investigated.
5. And if none of that works, the government will just revoke someone’s nationality
Authorities in Bahrain usually resort to revoking the nationality of people considered to be a government opponent. Without nationality, individuals are forced to leave the country, even if they have nowhere else to go. Many of those whose nationality was revoked were rendered effectively stateless.
To find out more about the state of human rights in Bahrain, read our latest report:
Bahrain: Behind the rhetoric: Human rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated
(Image: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)