Two peaceful demonstrations were met with violence in Bahrain on Wednesday – at one, in a tourist shopping mall, police fired stun grenades at people protesting against the Formula 1 car race due to be held this weekend. Several were detained. And the former British policeman in charge of police reform in Bahrain, John Yates, said he could not guarantee security at the high-profile race.
Since last weekend, Bahrain has detained at least 60 protest leaders. Local activists told Reuters that Shiite community leaders had been arrested after opposition rallies over last weekend.
Meanwhile, it's still uncertain what might happen to any protesters at the racing event itself this weekend. Amnesty International today issued a new report on the use of torture in the small Gulf monarchy.
"The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director. "Their reforms have only scratched the surface."
It gets worse. Former Scotland Yard commissioner John Yates, who is overseeing security at the race (his job is supposedly to reform Bahrain's brutal police force), has not exactly inspired onlookers with confidence. He said yesterday: "Is it possible there might be an incursion on the track? Of course there is. It's an open event. Can you stop some idiot running onto the track? There have been other incidents of track incursions."
Yates also said police would retaliate with live rounds if necessary: "The police will have all the options you would expect. If the opposition started firing live ammunition, the police would respond with live," he said, adding: "But I don't think that's likely."
On Sunday, Bahraini police arrested two American human rights workers.