Ahead of Sunday's Formula One 'Grand Prix', thousands of Bahraini protesters have taken to the street calling for the cancellation of the race saying, "It's just a mask to hide the crimes."
Security forces have reportedly fired tear gas to break up a peaceful rally of thousands of men, women, and children who gathered along the Budaiya Highway in the capital Manama on Friday.
Carrying banners that said, "Don't race on our blood," and "F1 is just a mask to hide the crimes," demonstrators called for the release of the many jailed activists and for race promoters to cancel the event on ethical grounds.
According to reports, they chanted "We reject tyrannical rule," "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you Bahrain" and "Down with Hamad," in reference to the country's king.
When asked about the current human rights situation in the country, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, replied:
During the demonstrations in 2011 dozens of people were killed by the security forces. Thousands were arrested and many are still in detention. Others have been arrested in the past months and have allegedly been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. Prisoners of conscience remain behind bars and the security forces continue using unnecessary or excessive force against protesters, which has resulted in two people killed so far this year.
This is the reality of the human rights situation in Bahrain, behind the gloss of reform, as the country prepares to host the Formula One Grand Prix.
Despite the ongoing protests and widespread human rights violations, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Formula One Management (FOM) said in a joint statement issued Friday that this year's race would proceed as planned, going so far as to say that "sport can often be a force for good and that the staging of the Grand Prix in Bahrain will come some way in helping soothe some of the issues which have been raised in the media."
Friday's peaceful rally followed a night of tear gas and stun grenades across the nation as police sought to quell demonstrators who blocked roads with burning tires.
According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, 13 people were arrested Thursday evening during clashes in villages close to the the site of the race, the Sakhir track. According to the center, police fired tear gas and birdshot against protesters in the towns of Sitra and Diraz.
AFP reports that authorities have set up checkpoints at junctions leading to the track, hoping the added security helps the race to "pass off without incident."
The race which was first run in Bahrain in 2004 was cancelled two years ago following the forcible clearance of an iconic Manama landmark, Pearl Roundabout.
In the unrest that followed more than 50 people died, hundreds were arrested and thousands dismissed from their jobs.
Last year's race went ahead in an atmosphere of heightened security. One protester was shot dead by police.