As Sunday’s Formula One race draws host Bahrain into the international spotlight, pro-democracy protesters hope to rubbish the government’s message that normalcy has returned to the Kingdom after two years of sporadic clashes.

There have been heavy clashes over the past week that could peak just ahead of the Grand Prix. A round of demonstrations began on April 11 after the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the main bloc, called for weeklong protests, under the slogan “democracy is our right”. Three days later, hundreds took to the streets to stage peaceful protests, though violence was not far away.

The stirrings grabbed international attention, especially after a car bomb on Sunday tore through an area in Manama, close to the swanky newly built business district. Police also raided the Jabreya School and clashed with students who were agitating for the release of a colleague. On Thursday night, demonstrators again waded into the streets chanting: “No Formula on Bahrain’s occupied land” — a slogan that reflected the widening gulf between alienated protesters and the authorities.

An activist of the Bahrain Centre of Human Rights (BCHR) has elaborated on the government crackdown that has followed the surge in protests.

The centre has documented the arrest of 50 people one week before the race, including 20 activists from the villages near the area of Bahrain International Circuit. During last year’s race, the BCHR documented the arrest of at least 60 protesters. Dozens were injured and one man, Salah Abbas died — a victim of gunshot pellets fired by the police.

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