Amnesty International says Bahrain crisis no better than when 2011 Formula 1 grand prix was cancelled

Amnesty International claims the situation in Bahrain has not improved since the 2011 grand prix was cancelled - and says Formula 1 risks being used as a political tool by allowing next weekend's race to go ahead

After weeks of debate and controversy, the FIA announced on Friday that there was no reason why the 2012 Bahrain GP could not take place as scheduled on 20-22 April.

But human rights group Amnesty released a briefing on the Bahrain situation later in the day, in which it accused the Gulf state's government of trying to present an image of change rather than tackling its issues, and suggested F1 was a factor in this process.

"In recent months, the Bahraini authorities have become more concerned with rebuilding their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country," said the Amnesty statement.

"Indeed, for the authorities, much is at stake. They are keen to portray Bahrain as a stable and secure country in order to stave off international criticism. But as the country prepares to host the Formula 1 grand prix on 20-22 April, after the event was cancelled last year in response to the instability in the country, daily anti-government protests continue to be violently suppressed by the riot police that uses tear gas recklessly and with fatal results. Acts of violence by some protesters against the police have also considerably increased in the last three months.

"Holding the grand prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolising a return to business as usual. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing human rights crisis in the country. The government must understand that its half-hearted measures are not sufficient - sustained progress on real human rights reform remains essential."

The report argued that the present situation in Bahrain was little different to the circumstances that had led to the 2011 race being called off.

"Despite the authorities' claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011," said Amnesty.

Earlier on Friday the FIA had declared that it was content the Bahrain GP could safely go ahead.

"Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula 1 world championship event in Bahrain," it said.

And F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone told reporters at the Chinese GP that the situation in Bahrain was being misrepresented.

"Everybody's happy," said Ecclestone. "We haven't got any problems. It's a problem being discussed by the media. They don't have any idea what's going on. That's the problem.

"This race is on the calendar, and has been on the calendar for quite a long time, and we will be there. All the teams are happy to be there.

"The national sporting authority will keep us informed as to what is happening. There's nothing happening. I know people who live there and it's all very quiet and peaceful."

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