Coming off a year when Hamilton took a leading role in the sport’s stand against racial injustice and social inequality with the Black Lives Matter campaign, he stressed that F1 cannot ignore human rights issues in the countries it visits.
A Bahraini government spokesperson told CNN it has a “zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind.”
“The government of Bahrain has a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind and has put in place internationally recognized human rights safeguards,” it said in a statement.
“A range of institutional and legal reforms have been implemented in close collaboration with international governments and independent experts, including the establishment of a wholly independent Ombudsman — the first of its kind in the region — which will fully and independently investigate any allegation of mistreatment.
“Furthermore, the National Institute for Human Rights — created with the assistance of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — has independent oversight of promoting and protecting human rights within the kingdom. In line with international norms, where arrests take place and convictions are sought due to clear breaches of the law, these rely on the process of an independent court system which upholds the legal rights of all individuals throughout.”
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the tiny island kingdom for stamping out dissent, arresting critics of the government and violently quashing protests. In 2011, a popular uprising against the country’s leadership prompted a wave of arrests.
Hamilton, after admitting the letter “weighed quite heavily” on him, says that he has spent the past few months educating himself on the alleged human rights issues in the country.
“I have been to see the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and spoken to Bahrain officials also. At the moment, the steps I have taken have been private, and I think that is the right way to go out about it… but I am definitely committed to helping in any way I can.”
In a statement sent to CNN, an F1 spokesperson reiterated the sport’s “unique role in bringing different cultures together.”
“Formula 1 and the FIA fully believe that sport has always had a unique role in bringing different cultures together and crossing borders, being a force for good. We believe that shutting countries off from sport is not the right approach and engagement is far better than isolation. Sports like Formula 1 provide millions of people around the world with joy and excitement and we want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity access and enjoy the world of sport regardless of their background.
“We have always been clear with all race promoters and Governments with which we deal worldwide that we take violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously. Our human rights policy is very clear and states that the Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally and have made our position on human rights clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”
“It has become clear that F1’s current human rights policy has not led to real change; it’s time for the new CEO to stop sportswashing and launch an independent inquiry.”
‘Sportswashing’ is a term used to describe governments using high-profile sporting events to project a favorable image of their country around the world.
They called for the race to be canceled and urged drivers, including Hamilton, to boycott it.
Neither Hamilton nor any other drivers publicly addressed the concerns at the time and the race went ahead as normal.
Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.
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