Twenty-five NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) sign an open letter to the Formula One Group calling for concrete measures to safeguard human rights in Bahrain during race events.
True the circuit is one of the better Tilke designed tracks, and the race is often a good one with quality on-track action and drama, but at the expense of peoples lives? I’m sure most F1 fans would be very understanding if Liberty Media and the FIA actually take a moral stand and remove the Grand Prix from the calendar along with a few of the other questionable regimes that host a Grand Prix.
What is truly awful, and a clear sign that is indicative of the way Formula One media is still controlled by those with a serious invested interest in keeping the status quo – rarely is this problem reported on by the usual crowd of F1 journalists and publishers.
Autosport, Motorsport.com et al do not dedicate much, if any, column inches to the Bahrain issue. Journalists are rarely employed full time by a publisher, and so are writing independently more often than not. If a journalist did right too much on the subject independently, they know they’ll likely lose their ability to earn a living as teams and contacts would cease to communicate. Such is the power of the media controlling what you read as an F1 fan.
Not only that, but any journalist who has written anything in a negative stance against the regime, will very likely be disallowed entry or even worse, detained should they attend the Grand Prix.
The description of the Bahrain regime’s policy toward its citizens is best described by the Human Rights Watch Organisation, an NGO whose mandate is to highlight suffering and injustice in countries who’s ruling body abuses its own people:
“Bahrain’s human rights climate continue to be dire. Courts convict and imprison prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders for their peaceful activism and file abusive charges against their relatives.
“Security forces use excessive force to disperse peaceful assemblies. Police forces and officers at the National Security Agency ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions. Authorities have failed to hold officials accountable for torture.
“Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds of citizens and deported dozens of them, including dissidents, journalists, and lawyers as punishments for offenses that, in reality, include peaceful criticism of the government.
“Authorities in 2017 shut down the only remaining independent newspaper in the country and ahead of parliamentary elections in November 2018, parliament banned members of dissolved opposition parties from being able to run.”
1. This morning, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law, Hajer Mansoor, for the first time since her assault last Sunday. She was held incommunicado for the last 8 days despite numerous attempts to call the Isa Town detention centre and even visit the prison.#Bahrain pic.twitter.com/IFKp5Xuk6s
— Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei (@SAlwadaei) September 24, 2018
Lewis Hamilton asked to help
“Every moment I spend in prison stains the reputation of Formula One who have abandoned their commitment to freedom of expression and allowed injustice to be perpetrated in their name.”
These are the words of Bahraini activist Najah Yusuf in a recent column for the Guardian, which she wrote just 22km away from where the second F1 race of the season will be held.
She is in prison there.
Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer in the UK, has urged Hamilton to take a “moral responsibility” to those in the country and that F1 should be held accountable.
“If F1 does not act we have to speak to people like Lewis Hamilton,” he said.
“We have to look him in the eyes and say: ‘Lewis, is it appropriate to earn millions and stand on a podium that could be on the back of Najah? Less than 24km away somebody is in prison being abused. You, Lewis, have a moral responsibility if your leadership will not take it.’
“You cannot win world titles on the back of human rights abuses and stand in countries that abuse people without realising you have a moral responsibility.”
An open letter to Formula One
Below is an open letter NOT widely reported by F1 media, sent to the Formula One Group (Liberty Media) and the FIA. The letter describes how the signatories are not requesting the GP be canceled, but actually ask for a fair proposal at allow mechanisms to be implemented already used by FIFA and the IOC
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, write to you in advance of the upcoming Formula One Grand Prix race in Bahrain, scheduled for 29-31 March, to raise concerns regarding the worsening human rights situation in the country and the specific human rights risks associated with the event.
We call on the Formula One Group to take concrete measures to safeguard human rights in Bahrain during the race, in accordance with its own “Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights,” including instating a freedom complaints mechanism.
Bahrain’s human rights situation has continued to deteriorate over the years, and we have seen a trend of increased repression by the authorities in the lead up to, and during, Bahrain’s Grand Prix – notably the targeting and suppression of free expression in the context of the race. We are deeply concerned that the Bahrain Grand Prix has continued to take place in an environment of oppression, human rights violations, and constricted freedom of expression.
Targeting journalists for their coverage of protests surrounding the race has become commonplace. In 2012, 22-year-old videographer and journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassanwas fatally shot by Bahraini security forces while covering protests around the Grand Prix. Witnesses stated that he was targeted because authorities saw his video equipment. In the seven years since, no one has been held accountable for his death.
In March 2016, Bahraini authorities refused to renew journalist Nazeeha Saeed‘s press credentials with foreign media outlets, seemingly as retribution for her previous coverage of police brutality during protests. She was then taken to court and fined for “working without a license.”
Additionally, journalists traveling to Bahrain for the 2017 Grand Prix were required to sign a form that stated they would only cover the Grand Prix or risk losing their visa – a strategy that has effectively muted coverage of protests and freedom of the press, while simultaneously bolstering Bahrain’s reputation, thereby providing cover for abuses to continue unabated.
Other instances of human rights abuses occurred during the Grand Prix in April 2017, including the use of tear gas against protesters. Bahraini activist, Najah Yusuf, was arrested following her online criticism of Bahrain’s Grand Prix, and has been subjected to arbitrary detention and torture. She was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in June 2018.
In 2012, 36-year-old father of five, Salah Abbas, was shot dead by Bahraini authorities after taking part in a peaceful demonstration on the eve of the Grand Prix. Protesters were concerned with the Bahraini government’s use of the race to deflect attention from broader issues in the country, especially following the violent government crackdown on Bahrain’s 2011 popular pro-democracy movement.
The 2016 Grand Prix was marked by the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani, critically injured during his arrest in Shahrakan village, located within three miles of the Bahrain International Circuit. He was arrested in relation to his involvement in protests, and died on 4 April 2016, a day after the Grand Prix concluded. Witnesses state he was hit by a police vehicle and no credible investigation was ever carried out.
Authoritarian states use sports to raise their profile. Sporting bodies, including The Formula One Group, have a responsibility to protect and uphold human rights, including the right to free expression. The potential impact of interventions was recently demonstrated when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) successfully called for the release of imprisoned footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who had been held in a Bangkok prison awaiting extradition to Bahrain and risk of torture and death.
In addition, major sporting organizations, including the IOC and FIFA, have instated freedom complaints mechanisms which enable individuals, particularly journalists and human rights defenders, to report human rights and press freedom violations.
We call on the Formula One Group to follow in the footsteps of the IOC and FIFA and implement a similar freedom complaints mechanism as a concrete demonstration of its own “Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights,” in which it pledges to understand and monitor the potential human rights impacts of its activities, to identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts, and to consider practical responses to any issues raised.
A freedom complaints mechanism through the Formula One Group would be a step in the right direction to address human rights abuses surrounding the Grand Prix in countries like Bahrain, and would help to protect the fundamental right to free expression.
Bahrain is one of the worst offenders for press freedom
To conclude, the Bahrain regime is ranked 166 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index along with Azerbaijan being ranked 163 – both with proven track records of human rights abuse including murder, torture, imprisonment, and intimidation of its own people.
Worth bearing in mind this weekend.