Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Bahrain to protest Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix amid one of the worst government crackdowns on dissidents to hit the tiny island since the start of an uprising more than two years ago.
Riot police fired tear gas, birdshot and stun grenades at demonstrators throughout Friday and into Saturday morning in over 20 villages, injuring at least 10 people, some critically.
Police have arrested nearly 100 people over the past two weeks during protests and in arbitrary house raids according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The group documented at least 30 injuries in that time.
“Unfortunately, because of Formula One, we are suffering a crackdown,” Yousif al-Muhafda, BCHR deputy head told Al-Akhbar. “There have been many checkpoints, house raids, many people have been kidnapped, beaten and sexually harassed.”
Bahrainis are protesting that the annual race take place on their soil as the government continues to commit human rights abuses in the wake of a popular uprising that erupted in February 2011. Some of the protesters carried banners reading “Don’t race on our blood.” They chanted: “No to the blood formula.”
Similar unrest prompted organizers to cancel the race in 2011. The race went ahead in 2012 despite huge demonstrations in which police killed one man.
Amnesty International, along with other rights groups, has condemnedthe crackdown, and criticized Formula One for taking “no steps to address human rights abuses that appear to be directly linked to the event.”
Bahrain’s US-backed monarchy has also clamped down on journalists covering the raids. The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday issued a statement criticizing Bahrain for deporting three British journalists filming street protests. The statement said that CPJ documented 31 violations of press freedom last year to “suppress coverage of unrest around the Formula One race.”
Opposition groups have called for more demonstrations Saturday and Sunday.
Violence has claimed the lives of at least 80 people in the island, with its 1.3 million population, since the start of the uprising.