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Human rights coalition calls for boycotting Formula 1 in Bahrain

An international human rights coalition consisting of 27 organizations worldwide called for a boycott of Formula 1 in Bahrain and to refrain from contributing to the “sport washing” of human rights violations practised by the Al-Khalifa regime.

The organizations sent a joint letter to the CEO of Formula 1 Group, Stefano Domenicali, which organizes the Bahrain Grand Prix, calling for refraining from contributing to the “sport washing” of human rights violations in Bahrain.

The organizations raised their concerns about the group’s signing a 15-year contract with Bahrain to organize races, which is the most extended contract ever in this field, despite the massive human rights violations in Bahrain and the political repression that human rights organizations had previously raised with Formula 1.

The groups promised to sign this contract without consulting the international human rights community, contradicting Formula 1 last year that it takes “violence, human rights abuse and repression seriously”.

The letter reminded that more than 20 international human rights organizations and trade unions, in addition to more than 60 members of the British Parliament, called on Formula 1 in March last year to recognize the seriousness of human rights violations in Bahrain.

It also called for a meeting with stakeholders to launch an independent investigation to review the impact of F1 on the human rights situation in Bahrain, which requests were rejected by the company.

The organizations considered this refusal to contradict the claims of the CEO of Formula One that the sport has a unique role in being a “force for good”.

The F1 race in Bahrain contributed to the abuses of the Bahrain authorities and the suffering of individuals. F1 failed to use its platform adequately to address these violations or publicly advocate for redress for these victims, especially in the case of activist Najah Yousef and Salah Abbas Habi, who was shot dead by police on the eve of the 2012 F1 race in Bahrain.

The organizations highlighted the continuation of institutional repression in Bahrain as it “continued its violent campaign of persecution against political opponents, escalated its targeting of children.” It also said that the death penalty increased over the past decade, stressing that this unprecedented partnership casts doubt on the role of Formula 1 in “sports washing”.

Among the abuse cases raised by the organizations in their letter is academic Dr Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, a respected political and academic prisoner and human rights defender who has been illegally imprisoned since 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He has been on a hunger strike for more than eight months in protest against the confiscation of cultural research.

The organizations also criticized the company’s double standards policy, as it cancelled its scheduled race in Russia due to the war in Ukraine. Still, it continues to organize its races in the Middle East even though the Saudi-led coalition, which includes Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, continues its seven-year military campaign against Yemen, which led to what the United Nations called “the worst humanitarian disaster in the world”.

The signatories to the letter urged Formula 1 to engage with international human rights organizations by publicly recognizing the human rights crisis in Bahrain and refraining from contributing to the sports washing of such violations, asking the company to use its relationship with the Bahrain authorities to secure redress for victims of violations directly related to F1 activities.

It also called for a review of its long-term contract with Bahrain to include conditions for compliance with international human rights law and a review of the group’s official policy on the race in Bahrain, as well as in Saudi Arabia and the UAE gave their roles in the military campaign in Yemen.

Finally, it called on the CEO of Formula 1 to reconsider his position on F1’s desire to facilitate the formation of a commission of independent experts to investigate human rights violations linked to F1’s activities in Bahrain, with a complaints mechanism to allow victims to report violations.

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