F1 boss urged to correct ‘false’ Bahrain Grand Prix protest claims
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has been urged to correct “false” claims about the arrest of Bahraini protestors prior to the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Reports emerged that four Bahraini political protestors were arrested near the Bahrain International Circuit on 5 March, speaking out against sportswashing of human rights abuses in the Gulf country.
Yet the Bahraini government deny that any arrests took place, a view shared by Formula 1, despite evidence first-hand by the protestors and the UK government confirming the arrests.
Now Domenicali has been urged by Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat life peer, to correct and respond to these “false” claims about the arrests, as well as speak out “regarding executions and the right to protest without risk of reprisals” in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The two Gulf countries hosted the first two races of the 2023 season.
“Formula One’s denial that these arrested took place has consequences,” Lord Scriven said, in a letter sent to Domenicali.
“This [UK government response], as well as video evidence, directly and conclusively disproves what the Bahraini Government told your office, which was a lie.
“As Formula One shared the Bahraini Government’s false claim with the media, Formula One has a responsibility to correct that, and to speak out against the arrests given Formula One’s position is that ‘individuals should be allowed to protest against and criticise our events without intimidation or reprisals and we seek and obtain assurances where necessary’”.
Lord Scriven also appealed to Domenicali to act after the Saudi government executed Jordanian national Hussein Abo al-Kheir a week before Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
This followed the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia’s history, when 81 individuals were killed in a single day in March 2022.
“We are raising this with you as you have claimed that F1 is a force for good in the Kingdom, and that you are ‘proud of what F1 is achieving by wielding’ soft power,” Scriven added. “But the fact that the regime has carried out executions in the lead up to the Grand Prix two years in a row shows private representations are not sufficient.
“Remaining silent gives the regime the green light to continue to commit atrocities, safe in the knowledge that they can continue to kill without consequences. Formula One publicly commenting on the executions and taking a principled stance would actually pressure the Government to stop the bloodshed.”
The Independent has contacted Formula 1 for comment.
Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers admitted they felt uncomfortable about racing in Saudi Arabia prior to the event in Jeddah, particularly in wake of a missile strike by Yemeni rebels against an oil refinery close to the track during the 2022 race.
Hamilton said: "If I am not here, F1 will continue on without me so what I try to do is learn as much as I can.
"I still feel that as a sport going to places with human rights issues such as this one, the sport is duty bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact.
"I feel it needs to do more. What that is I don’t have all the answers but we always need to do more to try to raise awareness of things people are struggling with.”
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was directly criticised by Lord Scriven in late January after failing to respond to a letter raising concerns over Formula One races being held in the Gulf region.
As well as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia just staged, F1 will also race in Qatar this year and the season finishes in Abu Dhabi on 26 November.
Maya Foa, director of human rights group Reprieve, said: “For all the talk of ‘positive values’ and ‘accelerating change,’ Formula One has never seriously engaged with human rights and the way the sport is used to whitewash abuses by some of the world’s most repressive regimes.
“The sport’s human rights problem has never been more glaring.”
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