Hackers claiming to be from Anonymous have taken down the official Formula One website as protests grow over this weekend's controversial Grand Prix in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
"The F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain should be strongly opposed. The Al Khalifa regime stands to profit heavily off the race and has promised to use live ammunition against protestors in preparation," the group said in a statement.
"They have already begun issuing collective punishment to entire villages for protests and have promised further retribution 'to keep order' for the F1 events in Bahrain. The Formula 1 racing authority was well-aware of the Human Rights situation in Bahrain and still chose to contribute to the regime's oppression of civilians and will be punished."
The statement also called for the release of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a prominent local human rights activist who was arrested at his home in April 2011 and sentenced to life in prison two months later on charges of aiding terrorist organizations. Amnesty International has declared him a 'prisoner of conscience' and he is now in the 70th day of a hunger strike.
So far the race looks like it will be going ahead anyway, although some members of the Force India team have left the country following an incident earlier in the week where they were caught in a riot and tear gassed. The country's Crown Prince said to cancel the race now would "empower extremists," Reuters reports.
Bahrain was the first Middle Eastern state to hold a Formula One race in 2004 and the ruling family has a significant stake in the McLaren racing team. The 2011 race was cancelled after protests erupted across the country.
The protests began on Valentine's Day last year, as part of the wave of uprisings across the Arab world. While uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were successful (with some help from NATO in the last case,) the Bahraini uprising, which saw over 100,000 people take to the streets, was quickly crushed when the royal family asked the Saudi Arabian army to intervene. The US Navy 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, did not take part.
After the initial uprising the former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates, who resigned after being heavily criticized for his conduct of an investigation into the News of The World hacking scandal, was hired by the Bahraini royal family to investigate human rights abuses that may or may not have taken place.
Yates reportedly wrote to FIA president Jean Todt earlier this month, telling him that the protests were not as serious as the media was reporting and said he felt safer in Bahrain than he did in some parts of London.
"These are criminal acts being perpetrated against an unarmed police force who, in the face of such attacks, are acting with remarkable restraint," he wrote. "They are not representative of the vast majority of delightful, law-abiding citizens that represent the real Bahrain that I see every day." ®