MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain Grand Prix officials will reinstate employees who have been purged from jobs as part of a crackdown on dissent in the Gulf kingdom, the chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit said Wednesday.
Sheik Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa said in a statement the decision is "an important initiative towards national reconciliation and unity" in the Gulf kingdom that has been roiled by opposition protests and government crackdowns since February.
Bahrain's season-opening race last year was canceled becaue of political unrest. This year's race is scheduled for April 22.
"I welcome back our colleagues into the BIC family as we now look to focus on the future and the important job at hand," Sheik Salman said in a statement that was posted on the Bahrain Grand Prix website Wednesday.
The statement does not say how many circuit employees were dismissed for their alleged role in Shiite-led protests against Sunni rulers.
Human rights groups have criticized the decision of the world racing body to reinstate the Bahrain event this year.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said "arrests and trials" of opposition supporters continue. They include Bahraini race drivers, the group said in a statement Wednesday.
Last month, driver Mohammed al-Khunaizi was sentenced to two years in prison. He was detained in September after a funeral of a protester who died during an anti-government rally, the statement said.
Hundreds of opposition supporters have been detained and tried in special security court for participating in protests, including at least 150 athletes, coaches and referees.
After mounting international pressure, Bahrain last month halted trials against the athletes and dropped all protest-related charges against them.
It remains unclear what will happen to athletes already convicted.
A medal-winning bodybuilder, a national soccer team goalkeeper and a Bahrain basketball player were sentenced to one year in prison each in December. In June, a Bahraini soccer player was sentenced to two years in prison.
Hundreds of suspected opposition supporters have been pushed out of public and private sector jobs since March, when Bahrain imposed martial law to quell protests aimed at breaking the Sunni dynasty's monopoly on power.
Bahraini labor groups claim up to 2,500 people were purged from jobs during the unrest. The government puts the number at 1,623.