Germany’s top human rights official, Markus Loening, yesterday called on Bahrain to free hundreds of political prisoners as the spotlight falls on the Gulf kingdom ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Grand Prix in Bahrain has prompted a host of protests, with the largest opposition grouping, al-Wefaq, calling for a week of daily demonstrations and sit-ins to last through the end of the race.
In an interview, Loening said there were still “a few hundred protesters in prison” more than a year after demonstrations during the Arab Spring.
He appealed to the government in Bahrain to release people “who have been imprisoned due to unfair court verdicts.”
Loening also reiterated calls for jailed Bahraini-Danish Shiite activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to be freed.
Khawaja has been on hunger strike since February to demand his release from prison, where he is serving a life sentence over charges he conspired to overthrow the ruling Sunni monarchy of Bahrain during last year’s protests.
Meanwhile, Bahraini security forces have arrested about 80 pro-democracy activists in an attempt to contain the daily protests ahead of the Grand Prix race, a local rights group said yesterday.
“About 80 people from several villages near [the capital] Manama have been arrested since April 14,” said the president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Mohammed Maskati, adding that the “mass wave of arrests is a preventive measure” by the authorities.
Tensions have been mounting ahead of Sunday’s controversial race, as the opposition and youth activists capitalize on renewed international attention on Bahrain’s year-long political and sectarian crisis.
On Tuesday, hundreds protested near Bahrain’s international airport as Formula One teams began arriving in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
The F1 race in Bahrain was cancelled last year in the wake of the Shiite-led uprising and the brutal government crackdown that followed.