LONDON – Two Associated Press journalists are being prevented from covering the Bahrain Grand Prix because they have not received visas to enter the Gulf kingdom.
The two writers, based in Dubai, were expected to cover practice and qualifying along with Sunday's race. They have been granted accreditation to cover the race by the sport's governing body, the Paris-based International Automobile Federation. But they have been told by Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority that their visa applications to enter the kingdom are still "pending."
Other Gulf-based journalists working for international news organizations also had not received visas in time to cover Thursday's practice.
"We cover sports events throughout the world, under all kinds of circumstances, and we see no reason that journalists should be prevented from coverage in Bahrain," AP Managing Editor for Sports Lou Ferrara said. "The government should not dictate or prohibit sports coverage in any way."
The Bahrain GP was canceled last year because of anti-government protests, which have left nearly 50 dead since February 2011. But last week, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone declared the Gulf kingdom safe and decided to go ahead with the race.
Ecclestone said all 12 teams told him they were happy to travel to the island nation despite almost daily violent clashes between security forces and protesters.
Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, which governs press issues in Bahrain, claims that the visas are being held up by "logistics."
Bahrain last year tightened its visa rules, including requiring advance clearance for journalists. Previously, journalists and others from many Western countries could receive visas upon arrival.
The AP and other news organizations have come under pressure from Bahraini officials and public relations consultants for extensive coverage of the uprising and anti-government groups.
On Wednesday, security forces fired stun grenades at anti-government protesters who swarmed into a cultural exhibition for the Grand Prix, setting off street battles and sending visitors fleeing for cover. The demonstration was the most direct attempt by Shiite-led protesters to bring their demands for an end to the near monopoly on power by the island nation's Sunni monarchy into events linked to Sunday's race.
Two members of the Force India team decided to leave the country Thursday, a day after a team vehicle was briefly delayed by a firebomb while traveling to a hotel from the Bahrain Grand Prix circuit. No one in the vehicle was injured.