The February 14 Youth Coalition, the underground movement that named itself after the date of the uprising in Bahrain two years ago, is stepping up its protests to Sunday's grand prix.
The coalition has embarked on a week-long campaign entitled "volcanic flame" and Ala'a Shehabi, a British-born activist and economics lecturer, said here on Wednesday night: "There will be many more protests from early on Thursday morning and through Friday. There will be road-blocks everywhere."
But pro-democracy protesters opposed to Sunday's race have also been frustrated by increased security measures which have driven them out of the capital, Manama. Shehabi said: "There was a blanket ban on all protests after last year's grand prix. People have been forced underground now. Protesters have been pushed to parts of small villages where they can't be heard or seen. As long as you're not seen or heard by anyone it's OK.
"There is a continuation of government repression. We haven't seen justice or accountability for the F1 staff who were sacked and arrested and tortured in 2011. They were tortured at the circuit itself."
Meanwhile Jean Todt, president of the FIA, Formula One's governing body, has at last broken his silence in a letter to local NGOs concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix. In it, he said: "It is our firm belief that sport, and the F1 grand prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress."
Shehabi said: "We have asked for 200 tickets for the race so protesters can make their point peacefully. But we won't be allowed within a mile of the circuit."
Said Yousif, spokesman for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said: "There has been a government crackdown here and it started two weeks ago, especially in the villages close to the F1 track, and 65 people have been arrested. Leaders have been beaten and tortured before being released, so everyone can see the marks of beating and torture. Houses have been razed in different villages. Tear gas has been used at close range. No one has died, as happened last year, but the crackdown has continued. I was in jail for a month three months ago just because I tweeted an injury in the capital."
Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the Shia Muslim-led group al-Wefaq, has asked for an increase in peaceful protests. "I am calling for more peaceful protests," he said. "I am calling on people to share peaceful protests to send a message to the world about our demand for peaceful democratic reform. I am against violence. Our protest is to take place today, tomorrow and on Friday. It is not against the race itself."
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