Bahrain Car Race: A Complicated Political Reminder

On Sunday morning, Formula One racing cars are competing for first place in a controversial race in the Arab kingdom of Bahrain. Violent anti-government protests have continued in the run-up to the race. Host Rachel Martin talks with Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning in Bahrain, Formula One racing cars competed in the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. Last year, protests linked to the Arab Spring put the race on hold. This year, the Gulf State's rulers determined that the race should go on. That decision provoked violent protests in which two people died. Protesters have condemned what they call a lack of international support. The United States Navy bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab is president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, and he joins us from Manama on the phone. Thanks for being with us.

NABEEL RAJAB: Hello, dear.

MARTIN: So, why is this Formula One race the focus of so much tension?

RAJAB: Well, I think it is a good (unintelligible) before a suspicion was really ignored by the international community. We were ignored by the Western government. We were ignored by the United States government because of the interest, because of the oil, because of the arms here. Human rights violation committed in Bahrain were ignored. But now with Formula One, thanks to God and thanks to Formula One, attention came back to Bahrain. Why we were again Formula One to take part in Bahrain is because Formula One is taken as a PR for the ruling elite here.

MARTIN: You've been out to these protests. Can you describe them? What did you see?

RAJAB: We have more than 80 people killed in the past month and thousands of people were detained, systematically tortured. I think five activists were tortured to death in the past one year. There is a collective punishment towards those villages who are having those protests. My house has been tear-gassed. My mother's house has been tear-gassed. Unfortunately, this has been happening with the arms, with the mercenaries and now with armored vehicle that was brought from Turkey or from other European and American government.

MARTIN: You talk about how the international community has not responded to these protests as much as you would have liked. What are you hoping is going to happen as a result of this latest round of protests? What can the international community do that they haven't done before?

RAJAB: Well, the only thing we ask the international community is to treat all revolution that is fighting for democracy and equality, as the Syrian, as the Libyan, and the Egyptian revolution were treated. Don't treat people in a different manner and different standard or in the hypocrisy. People in Bahrain fighting for democracy, fighting for justice, fighting for liberty, the same fight you have gone through in your country hundreds of years ago. People like us should be supported by communities like United States, like the international and European and Western government because we are fighting for the same values, for the same principles. We should not be left alone as we are now.

MARTIN: Nabeel Rajab is president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. We spoke to him from Manama in Bahrain. Thank you so much for joining us.

RAJAB: Thank you very much.

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