Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Hamilton urges action on “massive problem” of human rights in countries F1 visits

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton says human rights is a “massive problem” in some countries Formula 1 visits and the sport must ensure real action is taken to address the problem.

The Mercedes driver received a letter from 17 human rights organisations including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey, his future replacement Stefano Domenicali, and FIA president Jean Todt also received the letter.

The BIRD said the letter “urges F1 to secure justice for victims of abuses linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix, protect the rights of protesters and enact their human rights policy to ensure their business practices do not contribute to human rights abuses, in light of the ‘worsening’ human rights situation in the country.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled in 2011 following the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in the country during the Arab Spring uprisings. The race was reinstated on the calendar the following year.

Hamilton confirmed he had “received some letters” on arrival in Bahrain today. “I quickly got to see them before I got here but I’ve not had a lot of time to digest them,” he said. “So that’s something I definitely need to take some time to to do over the coming days.”

The world champion, who has focused his attention on promoting diversity and environmentalism, has become more outspoken on the subject of human rights in recent weeks. Formula 1 has faced criticism for racing in countries with poor human rights records in the past, and again since the announcement of the first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which will take place next November.

Hamilton said today “the human rights issue in some of the places that we go to is a consistent and a massive problem and I think it’s very, very important.

“I think it showed this year how important it is for not only us as a sport, but all the sports around the world to utilise the platforms they have to push for change.

“We are probably one of the only ones actually that goes to so many different countries and I do think as a sport, we need to do more. I think we’ve taken a step in that direction, but we can always do more.

“They’ve put some steps in place for the places that we are going to. But it’s important to make sure that they’re implemented in the right way and that it’s not just a saying that ‘we’re going to do something’, but actually see some action taken. So that’s going to take some work from us all in the background.”

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Letter from 17 human rights groups to prominent F1 figures

Dear Chase Carey,

1. Stefano Domenicali, incoming CEO of F1; Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile; Lewis Hamilton, F1 Champion; Jean-Frédéric Dufour, Rolex CEO

We, the undersigned organisations, are writing to express our concerns about the decision by Formula 1 to resume racing in Bahrain following the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, despite continuing abuses against protestors who oppose the event. The Grand Prix has become a flashpoint for protesters who see the event as ‘sportswashing’ Bahrain’s worsening human rights situation, and proceeding with the event without taking steps to protect the right to peacefully protest it, including publicly opposing abuses against protestors, risks making sportswashing a reality.

Abuses linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix since 2011

Since the suppression of Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising in 2011, the Bahrain Grand Prix has become a focal point of popular protest, and serious human rights abuses have been committed by Bahraini security forces against protesters, including the murder of Salah Abbas, who was arrested, assaulted, and shot dead on the eve of the 2012 race. The human rights implications of the Grand Prix were recognised in 2014 by the National Contact Point (NCP) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who stated in response to a human rights complaint that the event had become “politicised” and “recommended that the new risk warrants updated or ongoing due diligence to mitigate the human rights risks linked to the race.”

Despite F1’s decision to adopt a human rights policy in 2015, violations linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix have continued. As you are no doubt aware, in 2017, Bahraini activist Najah Yusuf was tortured, sexually assaulted and sentenced to three years in prison after posting criticism of the Grand Prix on social media. While Najah was released by royal pardon in August 2019 following sustained international pressure, she was subsequently fired from her public sector job and will live with the psychological impacts of her ordeal forever.

In October last year, F1 promised to raise Najah’s case with Bahraini authorities after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared her imprisonment to be “arbitrary” and called for her to be accorded an “enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.” However, over a year later Najah has received neither justice nor compensation, with no indication that F1’s interventions on her behalf have been effective, or even taken place at all.

Furthermore, her 17-year-old son, Kameel Juma Hasan, is now facing over 20 years in prison on a series of dubious charges apparently related to his participation in opposition demonstrations. Amnesty International has asserted that “his prosecution and imprisonment have been taken in reprisal against his mother,” after he and Najah refused to act as informants for the security services, adding that “official pursuit of Kameel became more aggressive as Najah continued to speak out about her own ordeal.”

Worsening human rights situation in Bahrain

In addition to unresolved human rights issues linked to the race, we are equally concerned that Bahrain’s government is using the positive publicity surrounding the race to ‘sportswash’ their dismal human rights record. As Human Rights Watch argued in their 2020 World Human Rights Report, the human rights situation in Bahrain has worsened considerably in recent years.

Since 2017, Bahrain has witnessed a more than ten-fold increase in executions, and at least 25 death row inmates currently face imminent execution, nearly half of whom were convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. Bahrain’s prisons remain overcrowded and unsanitary, with political prisoners routinely subjected to humiliating treatment and denied adequate medical care, in violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules. At Jau Prison, a mere 7 miles from the Bahrain International Circuit, authorities routinely fail “to provide adequate medical care to high-profile prisoners,” including elderly political leaders like Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil Al-Singace, jeopardizing their lives.

The arbitrary revocation of citizenship also remains a pressing human rights concern in Bahrain. Hundreds of individuals, including journalists, activists and leading opposition figures, remain deprived of citizenship. This includes Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), whose brother-in-law Sayed Nizar remains imprisoned in what the UN describes as “acts of reprisal” for his human rights activism.

Furthermore, freedom of expression, assembly and association in Bahrain have been severely curtailed and all political opposition parties and independent media have been shut down. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least six journalists are currently imprisoned for their work, and Bahrain has fallen to 169/180 on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index, making Bahrain a leader in repression of human rights.

Intensified crackdown since Covid-19

Concerningly, the Bahraini government has seized the opportunity provided by the coronavirus pandemic to tighten their grip over the country. Since March, authorities have further cracked down on citizens’ online activity, targeted top defence lawyers with vexatious prosecutions and introduced legislation outlawing criticism of government policy; at least 40 people have been arbitrarily detained since the start of the pandemic.

In November alone, the month of the Bahrain Grand Prix, 18 individuals were arrested for commenting on the death of Bahrain’s prime minister, including a 16-year old girl, a 14-year old boy and respected TV producer Yasser Nasser. Furthermore, on 3 November over 50 individuals were sentenced in a mass trial marred by torture and due process violations, according to research conducted by BIRD.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In light of the abuses connected to the Grand Prix, we are concerned by F1’s decision not only to continue racing in the country without taking measures to address those abuses, but also to increase the number of races taking place in the country with the introduction of the Rolex Sakhir Grand Prix. Bahrain’s government calls itself the “The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East” and has consistently pointed to the Bahrain Grand Prix to project an image of normalcy to curate the country as a regional sports and entertainment hub.

The decision to postpone the Bahrain Grand Prix in March to ensure the safety of drivers, staff and patrons was a sensible decision. However, it is high time that F1 demonstrated the same concern for the Bahraini people, who are facing the pandemic amidst a renewed government crackdown. By increasing F1’s presence in the country at this volatile time, without effective measures to end the abuses connected to the Grand Prix, you risk performing invaluable PR for Bahrain’s government and risk further normalising the violation of human rights in the country. We thus urge you to use your considerable leverage to:

  • Secure justice, accountability and compensation for victims of abuses linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix, including Najah Yusuf and the family of Salah Abbas;
  • Ensure that individuals who peacefully express their right to criticise the race are protected from prosecution; and
  • Enact your human rights policy to ensure that your business practices are not contributing to human rights abuses in Bahrain.

We hope you will treat this letter with the gravity the situation warrants.

Yours sincerely,

1. ACAT-France (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
2. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
3. Amnesty International
4. Article 19
5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
6. CIVICUS
7. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
8. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
9. Football Supporters Europe
10. Freedom House
11. Human Rights Watch
12. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
13. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
14. OMCT
15. Reprieve
16. Transparency International Germany
17. World Players Association

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2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “Hamilton urges action on “massive problem” of human rights in countries F1 visits”

  1. Well, I must say that I am curious to see whether anyone in F1 will feel they can say or do anything about this.

  2. Coventry Climax
    26th November 2020, 19:14

    Some argue that (any) sports promotes brotherhood.
    So, in my view, they can’t start promoting brotherhood soon enough.
    I’m so fed up with these countries and their ‘leaders’ that suppress just about anything their tiny brains are uncapable of comprehending.

    1. If they had tiny brains, they won’t be surpressing it. That is how they stay in power.

      China, one of the countries F1 visits certainly did not get where they are by promoting individual liberties.

  3. I like Marcus Rashford.
    No grandstanding, no pronouncements on things on the other side of the globe that he knows nothing about.
    He got poor kids in Britain fed, without fuss and fanfares. Lewis could ring up Rashford and ask him for some tips, but he won’t.

    1. That’s a really weird analogy.

    2. He got poor kids in Britain fed, without fuss and fanfares.

      Eh, pretty sure he did. He had to make a fuss and put public pressure because the government were initially not going to give school lunches to kids due to the schools closing.

      He has also put his MBE in his twitter handle and he does continue to advocate for feeding the poor and other social causes.

      I’m not criticizing Rashford here, just pointing out that “without fuss and fanfare” is inaccurate.

    3. Yea, he got the government to make the taxpayer fund his pet project.

    4. Lewis prefers to buy a million plus pound supercar and sit on the hood getting the perfect photo for Instagram.

  4. Well, that’s good. I just hope however he doesn’t have ‘Western blinkers’ on; I hope he will also protest the fact that, for example, the US that he seems so fond of is about to be taken over by a hawk who likes illegally bombing and invading other countries.

  5. So what do you think will be the ‘work in the background’ on this issue?

    1. I think it is part of the messaging. There will be no noticeable change, but trust us, it happening behind the scenes. We’ll just say something to occupy you now, and hopefully you’ll be distracted by something else once we are out of here.

  6. Whilst the principle of using F1 as a mechanism to improve human rights in host countries is noble and worthy, the reality is that unless F1 threaten to boycott the countries and have a punishment “with teeth” we will just go through the motions each time they visit and nothing will change (or at least not at the desired rate).

    Another reality is that these countries do contribute significantly to F1 coffers and boycotting them will mean team income drops are inevitable. Therefore all participants (but drivers will be disproportionately affected with their higher salaries) will have to take paycuts as a result. Therefore unless people are willing to make a personal financial sacrifice any action will be glacial.

    They say “a principle is not a principle unless it costs something”, this could be an acid test of that.

  7. “We don’t like what you do but we really like your money so please change.”

    Anyone else remember when Hamilton showed up to Bahrain in a full traditional male gown, strolling around with Sheikh Abdulla Khalifa? He’s a great driver but an appalling hypocrite.

    1. He’s a great hypocrite actually lol

    2. @joshgeake Omg he actually did

  8. Mate, you drive fast cars for a living. I’m not saying things shouldn’t change but stop using F1 as a platform & dragging it into all these political matters. I’m all for doing good & i respect Hamilton as a driver but the sooner F1 stops becoming the all encompassing Hamilton show, the better.

  9. I deeply respect human rights.

    …but, Lewis Hamilton’s position is the most pop and cheesy than I can bear, Lewis is a great driver, but his political position is the most ignorant, it seems like something out of “Teen Magazine”, or something similar.

    I give an example, Black Lives Matter openly supports the Venezuelan dictatorship, does Lewis support dictatorships? …then?

    Another example, Lewis takes photos and claims to be a friend of Arab Sheikhs, …it’s ridiculous.

    Lewis talks and talks and I don’t see him taking action on anything, there was only under “controlled conditions”, …I don’t see him taking action on anything, …ridiculous.

    1. Lol let me guess you got your info about blm from fox news or OAN propaganda network

      1. Carlos, do an exercise, write on your PC;

        black lives matter + Venezuela + Nicolás Maduro

        Lewis Hamilton has the BLM lettering and logo written on his helmet

        1.- Lewis Hamiltos supports dictatorships?
        2.- Lewis Hamilton is a fool and ignorant?

        I think Lewis is in # 2.-, …and probably you too.

        https://twitter.com/opalayo/status/648910802687262720

        https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/aug/16/one-of-my-best-drives-lewis-hamilton-celebrates-spanish-grand-prix-win

        1. @luis So anyone supporting Black Lives Matter is ipso facto ‘supporting dictatorships’? After that risible equation, you think you’re in any position to call other people foolish and ignorant?

        2. @luis unfortunately, it seems what you have fallen for is a mininformation campaign that was put out by a Florida based Republican supporting campaign group that wanted to smear the BLM campaign by associating it with socialist regimes, since there is a tendency amongst Latino voters to have a more negative attitude towards those regimes.

  10. Whatever one can think of this, the sport now has a voice. I watch it for 35 years and never seen any of this kind of world awareness before.

    We in the good direction anyway.

  11. As I see it, Formula 1 does indeed have an ethical responsibility to protest against the violence shown against those protesting against the sport being held in Bahrain, or any other country, otherwise it is colluding in their torture, imprisonment and murder. That goes for any country, but all the more so in places where it holds GPs with the alleged justification of helping improve dialogue and increasing visibility precisely as a means to alleviate human rights abuses. Isn’t that supposed to the reason for GPs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, for example? If so, Formula 1 collectively is encouraging protests as part of that dialogue and visibility – even if those protests include criticisms of the event being held in the first place.

    At the same time, I think it’s really unjustified to focus solely on Hamilton. The entire sport is implicated.

  12. I wonder if Hamilton will speak out against China’s human rights abuses next time he races there.

    Doubt it.

    Bahrain is a small market for Merc.

    We can do without the sanctimony from someone that buys million plus pound supercars while 10k children die everyday from hunger.

    1. There is 19 other drivers, why just Hamilton ?

      1. They aren’t hijacking the sport to further their political beliefs.

        BLM is a political organisation/movement.

        We don’t need drivers reminding us they are against racism no more than we need drivers saying before every race they are against murder, violence, rape, homophobia, terrorism.

        I find it insulting to be constantly lectured to by someone getting around in one million pound plus cars, worth half a billion dollars. Don’t lecture me about morality. He’d rather sit on the hood of his million dollar sports car getting the perfect Instagram snap than using that money to feed people with nothing. I have no problem with him buying sports cars, but don’t lecture me about what’s moral if that’s how you spend your wealth.

        I guarantee my carbon footprint is 1/100th of Hamilton’s. How is it moral for him to live the life of excess while the planet cooks?

        He basically lives in a fantasy world completely removed from reality.

        Would F1 tolerate a driver getting around in a red ‘Make America Great Again’ cap? Of course not and it shouldn’t be.

        1. Maybe Mercedes can speak out against China. But what do you think, seeing their response to what Bottas said about the virus. No chance. Thus the hypocrisy of driving with a black car revealed..

  13. The UN human rights office has issued a warning to United States authorities against using disproportionate force on Black Lives Matter protesters. Law enforcement committed at least 125 human rights abuses against protesters across the US during Black Lives Matter demonstrations within the first two weeks after the police killing of George Floyd, according to Amnesty International.

    Lewis should concern more about human right violation related to BLM in US. It’s more on brand.

  14. I find the negative comments on here ridiculous.
    Hamilton only recently found his voice regarding BLM and it is a personal subject for him, he has absolutely used his platform to promote that. F1 fans, especially here then say “he should say something about human rights abuses in China and Bahrain, Azabaijan etc”, then, the moment he says f1 should raise human rights issues in Bahrain people then say “he should talk about China”.
    He doesn’t have all the answers and at least he is actually using his status to raise such issues. More often than not these are questions posed in press conferences which he then answers. I for one like the fact that he is raising these issues rather than just sweeping them under the carpet and towing a company line.

    1. @broke84 the problem is that Hamilton forced/called out other drivers that didn’t take a knee. Now people call him out on his hypocrisy racing in the sandbox. Logical back and forth of things.

      In my opinion: who cares where they race, they even race in USA. Should boycot most races if you want to research all that is wrong. That’s what politics is for, not formula one. Corporations just are in it for the “we are are correct company” marketing. As soon as it hurts revenue they will turn 180 degree and sew for their “rights”. Let’s not be baited into social justice warrior stuff that goes nowhere on forums.

  15. So no t-shirts planned for Najah Yusuf, Lewis? Or isn’t she black enough?

  16. So he’s been going to Bahrain since 2007 but has only just realised, after receiving a letter, that it’s got some human rights issues? I guess he didn’t notice the tanks surrounding the track a few years ago then…

  17. Take a knee, solves everything. Added bonus: just continue on driving as if you are a Saint.

Comments are closed.