Journalists held by Bahrain police23/04/2012 - 07:42:52
The controversial Bahrain Grand Prix went ahead without disruption but British journalists were held by police elsewhere on the Gulf island.
Violent disturbances have been intensifying in recent days with around 50,000 anti-government protesters gathering around the capital Manama, just 25 miles away from where the race meeting took place.
Opponents fought pitched battles with security officials, with claims surfacing that protester Salah Habib Abbas, 37, was killed by shotgun pellets fired by riot police on a rooftop during an overnight raid.
The race itself passed peacefully, despite rumours leading opposition party al-Wefaq had purchased tickets and planned a protest inside the track.
But Channel 4 News’ foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller was arrested along with his cameraman Joe Sheffer and producer Dave Fuller.
They were detained at a police station for several hours before being driven to an airport where they are awaiting deportation.
The news crew were unharmed, but concerns were raised about the welfare of their local driver and British-Bahraini human rights activist Dr Ala’a Shehabi, whom they were travelling with.
The driver was arrested and assaulted in front of the team and appeared to be bleeding from cuts to his arms, while Dr Shehabi had her arm slammed in a car door by riot police, the journalist said.
Mr Miller revealed the team, which was filming a small demonstration in a village, was arrested by “scores” of balaclava-clad riot police after “a short car chase” during which their vehicle was tracked by a police helicopter.
The team was then held at a police station and interrogated by local police officers.
In an interview broadcast on Channel 4 News, Mr Miller said they had been unable to obtain official accreditation to report on the race due to restrictions by the authorities and were “under the radar”.
He said that once caught, police were “very aggressive” towards the crew.
Mr Miller later told BBC Radio 5Live the security officials were “particularly verbally abusive” to the two Bahrainis they were with.
“One of the reasons I went to Bahrain in the first place is because we know that the human rights record of this government is not good, so I am not happy at all leaving the two Bahraini colleagues of mine behind in police custody,” he said.
“Today I have witnessed at first hand the the abusive behaviour of both riot police and formal police.”
Mr Miller claimed riot police were using tear gas as a “weapon of intimidation” with canisters being fired at protesters like bullets.
“What I have seen suggests the police are using weapons which are causing injuries to those who are protesting,” he added.
“These people are being hit by tear gas canisters on a regular basis.”
After being taken to the airport, the news crew were prevented from boarding a British Airways flight because they did not have the appropriate documentation and remain in the country, according to Mr Miller.
Dr Shehabi, an economics lecturer, later tweeted that both she and the driver had been released by police.
She said: “Back home after 7 hours in police custody & a dramatic arrest-with a helicopter on the tail of our car.”
German Sebastian Vettel won the grand prix in front of a half-full main grandstand, with every other stand empty.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa had claimed that cancelling the race would “empower extremists”.
Fahad al Binali, spokesman for the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority, told the BBC he was “surprised” some protesters had campaigned against the race, saying it had provided them with “a platform” to a global audience.
In the run up to the race, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed the Government’s “concern” about the violence with the foreign minister of Bahrain.
He called on the Bahraini authorities for “restraint in dealing with protests including during the Formula One race” and urged “further progress in implementing political reforms”.
Meanwhile Mercedes and McLaren team bosses Ross Brawn and Martin Whitmarsh criticised British politicians for what they believed was a belated stance on the grand prix, which was cancelled in 2011 as international criticism grew over the bloodshed.
Mr Brawn said: “I find it very frustrating that politicians in the UK were saying we should withdraw once we got here. Why didn’t they say anything beforehand?”
He went on: “For somebody to try and make Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton determine the foreign policy of the country is wrong.”
David Cameron had resisted pressure to call for the cancellation of the event, insisting it was a matter for the F1 authorities.
Petrol bombs were hurled at security officials, tyres set ablaze and anti-grand prix graffiti daubed on walls in recent days as the sporting spotlight focused on the Gulf kingdom.
Amnesty International said human rights violations are continuing in the country despite government promises that the country is on the road to reform.
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