Jean Todt, the head of Formula One's governing body, will not attend this weekend's controversial Bahrain Grand Prix but officials played down the significance of his absence on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the International Automobile Federation (FIA) said the Frenchman had never had Bahrain on his schedule after being at the first two races of the season in Australia and Malaysia.
Speculations have linked Todt’s anticipated absence in Bahrain Grand Prix with reports raised by Human Rights Watch last week about the arrest of 20 opposition activists in towns near the Formula One circuit.
Such acts considered by pro-government parties as a sign of rising political tension before the Grand Prix on April 21. However, the Bahraini government denied any arrests had taken place.
Watched by millions around the world, the Grand Prix is the biggest sporting event hosted by the U.S.-allied country and the government is hoping for a big turnout at this year’s event.
An HRW statement said the detentions were made without a warrant and with the apparent intention of preventing a repeat of protests during last year’s race, which went ahead against a backdrop of burning tires and riot police firing teargas at petrol-bomb throwing protesters in Shiite Muslim villages.
But Information Minister Sameera Rajab told Reuters: “We discredit any news of such arrests in recent days or even months.”
Nobody could be arrested without a warrant, he said.
“This doesn’t happen in Bahrain. If there is any action against peace and security, it must be dealt with according to law.”