Bahrain issues continue to vex F1

Time is supposed to be a great healer, but there are seemingly not enough days in the month to cure the ills that surround a proposed return to Bahrain next April.

Formula One News: Bahrain Grand Prix

The race has become Formula One's political hot potato, and last week the question of whether it can be handled was brought sharply back into focus in light of the events that transpired in the Gulf kingdom.

Via a military court, 13 doctors and nurses were handed sentences of 15 years for treating activists wounded during anti-government protests earlier this year. A further seven received terms of five to 10 years.

They had all been charged with committing crimes against the state, for stealing medicine, possessing weapons and occupying a hospital - the Salmaniya Medical Centre in Manama where the majority worked - that government officials claim was being used as the protestors' base.

Furthermore, they were also accused of "inciting hatred to the regime and insulting it, instigating hatred against another sect and obstructing the implementation of law, destroying public property and taking part in gatherings aimed at jeopardising the general security and committing crimes".

The international condemnation that followed their sentencing, from governments and human-rights groups, was overwhelming.

Foreign secretary William Hague warned the Bahrainis as to their actions as he said: "These sentences appear disproportionate to the charges brought.

"These are worrying developments that could undermine the Bahraini government's moves towards dialogue and the reform needed for long-term stability in Bahrain.

"I call on the Bahraini judicial authorities to follow due process carefully and transparently. Cases before the special tribunals should be transferred to regular civilian courts."

It is hard to imagine Hague's words being heeded, certainly since the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently announced another 264 cases are pending before the same military tribunal.

One can only assume those trials will take place over the coming months, that the same heavy-handed treatment will be meted out, sparking similar outrage and denunciation.

It is why F1 must tread very carefully over the coming months as the April 22 date for next season's Bahrain Grand Prix draws near.

An uneasy peace may exist at present, and the majority of Bahrain's people are almost certainly going about their business as if the failed uprising this year did not happen.

But behind the scenes it is clearly a different story, ensuring the thorny issue of Bahrain will continue to cloud next year's calendar regardless of the positive messages that will emerge from the authorities as the time draws near.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has long stated the sport never has and never will associate itself or allow itself to be used with any political, religious or racial factions.

The first article of the FIA statutes states the FIA will "refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect".

It could be suggested that in sanctioning a race in Bahrain the FIA would be in breach of their own regulations.

It means over the next few months F1 and the FIA will have to tread carefully, to listen to every argument and report for and against - not merely whatever those in power want them to hear.

The sport and its governing body has to be seen to do the right thing for the right reasons. The world will be watching.

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