Bahrain activist jailed after Grand Prix criticism is released


by Nosheen Iqbal


Najah Yusuf pardoned following three years in prison for Facebook post against race and regime

An activist who was assaulted, tortured and imprisoned for three years for criticising the Formula One race in Bahrain has been freed by authorities today.
Najah Yusuf, a former Bahraini civil servant and mother of four children, was jailed in April 2017 after she criticised the race and the regime on Facebook. Yusuf was pardoned under a concession ahead of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, which takes place on Sunday, and is the first political prisoner to be released since 2011. Her family received a phone call from Isa Town prison in Bahrain to confirm Yusuf could go home.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) has led an international campaign to secure Yusuf’s freedom, which peaked during Bahrain’s Grand Prix in March this year. Yusuf wrote a first-person account of her experience for the Guardian in March, in which she declared: “Every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of Formula One.” In it, she detailed shocking abuse and sexual assault at the hands of officers.
Initially, Formula One bosses admitted to having “concerns” about Yusuf’s case, but in a letter to Bird and Human Rights Watch in March, it said it had been assured Yusuf’s conviction “had nothing to do with peaceful protest around the Bahrain Grand Prix”. The Bahrain government also promised: “Anyone who merely criticised or continues to criticise Formula 1 is free to do so.”
The court judgement against Yusuf said she had written “no to Formula One races on occupied Bahraini land” and that she had claimed F1 coming to her country was “nothing more than a way for the [ruling] al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations”. She also called for a “Freedom for the Formula detainees” march to raise awareness of the protestors jailed for criticising the race, which was cancelled after demonstrations in the country in 2011.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadei, the director of advocacy at Bird, said: “This is a monumental result for those who tirelessly campaigned to secure Najah’s release. Najah Yusuf is a fearless woman who bravely spoke out about the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of the Bahraini security apparatus. She should not have spent one second in prison, and must now be fully compensated for her unlawful imprisonment.”
There are currently six female political prisoners in Isa Town prison. Among them is is Hajer Mansoor, who has been declared arbitrarily and unlawfully imprisoned by the UN. Najah is among 105 inmates released today.