Bahrain: Rights groups address Formula 1 in letter concerning sport body's alleged links to human rights abuses during Grand Prix - company responds

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14 November 2018

F1 finally admits concern over woman jailed for Bahrain Grand Prix protests

Author: Sean Ingle, The Guardian

Formula One chiefs have admitted for the first time that they are “concerned” that an activist who protested against the Bahrain Grand Prix on Facebook was jailed for three years by the country’s authorities. F1 has traditionally been reluctant to intervene on politics and human rights cases but has made a rare exception in the case of Najah Ahmed Yusuf, who claims she was beaten, sexually abused and imprisoned following a series of posts in April 2017 that were critical of the race and the regime... Human rights groups say they first alerted F1 to Yusuf’s plight in March. However they insist it was only after a letter from the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven last week – followed up by another one from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) – that F1 chiefs acknowledged their concerns about the Bahraini court’s judgment against Ms Yusuf. “We are concerned by the citation in the court judgment of Ms Yusuf’s comment opposing the staging of the 2017 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix,” Sacha Woodward Hill, general counsel for F1, told Scriven and Bird. “And we have raised our concerns with our counterparts in Bahrain, as part of our ongoing enquiries. “Formula One is committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally. As part of our commitment we expect that commentators who may wish to use the occasion of a Formula One grand prix event to express opinions peacefully will be able to do so without punitive action, before, during or after the event”...

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17 July 2017

Formula 1 response to NGO rejoinder urging increased human rights due diligence

Author: Sacha Woodward Hill, General Counsel (Formula 1)

...We are looking into the new allegations made in your letter concerning the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix and our enquiries are ongoing. We have been assured that arrests made during the period of the Grand Prix have been solely in response to the crimes committed. You mention in your letter that you have "documented...use of unlawful and lethal force to suppress peaceful protestors during the 2017 Grand Prix". I invite you to share that with us to aid our own research.

While you advocate a boycott, we believe that Formula 1's presence in every country on its calendar is positive and a force for good. Sport engages people from all walks of life and plays an important role in uniting communities and encouraging tolerance and acceptance. We believe too that Formula 1's global profile shines a light and brings transparency to the internal affairs of every country that we visit.

We will continue to inform and educate ourselves about matters that are potentially relevant to our business, including the human rights position in every country on our calendar, to ensure that human rights are respected throughout our operations worldwide...

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NGO rejoinder
22 June 2017

Rights groups urge F1 to exercise due diligence in light of alleged links to rights abuses

Author: Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain; ARTICLE 19; Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy; European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights; Index on Censorship

...We write to follow up on the points you raised on freedom of expression and proportionate use of force, based on evidence documented during this year’s event and to call on you to exercise enhanced due diligence in line with your human rights responsibilities..[T]he events around this year’s Grand Prix strongly suggest that Formula 1 needs to consider stronger “practical responses to any issues raised as a result of [y]our due diligence”. The April 2017 Grand Prix coincided with government reprisals against journalists and the excessively forceful suppression of peaceful protesters...

We ask Formula 1 to reconsider its plans for a 2018 race in Bahrain, noting the recent approval of next year’s calendar by the FIA World Motor Sport Council, in light of the severe restrictions on journalists rendering free reporting impossible and the Bahraini authorities’ continued use of excessive and indiscriminate force...We call on you to exercise enhanced due diligence, as per your corporate commitment, with the view to ensure that such unlawful acts are not repeated and that your presence in the country is not causing harm. Specifically, we call on you to revisit and clarify the measures you have in place to ensure the expectations expressed in your letter and human rights commitment are met, and to use your leverage to urge the Bahraini government to end its crackdown on journalists and peaceful protestors. Failing to exercise due diligence and thus abide by your own Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights risks greater complicity in human rights abuses in Bahrain and the tarnishing of your brand’s reputation...

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18 April 2017

2 Questions For Journalists At Bahrain’s F1

Author: Brian Dooley, Human Rights First in The Huffington post (USA)

Bahrain’s government uses events like the F1 to Sportswash its authoritarianism ― this year it invested in a pro cycling team and it now hosts an international ironman triathlon. And there was the bid for the FIFA presidency by the ruling family’s Sheikh Salman, which ended in humiliation after sports journalists exposed his failure to protect athletes targeted during the the 2011 pro-democracy uprising.

But since last year’s Grand Prix in Bahrain the human rights situation there has plummeted dangerously. Executions have resumed this year for the first time since 2010, and two policemen have been killed. Bahraini security forces have killed three men attempting to flee the country, and fatally shot a protestor. Last week the King approved an amendment to the constitution to allow civilians to be tried in military courts. Meanwhile prominent human rights activists remain in prison. News emerged this week that leading dissident Abdulhadi Al Khawaja has embarked on a hunger strike in jail to protest oppressive prison conditions, and that his colleague Nabeel Rajab has been transferred from prison to hospital to prison and back to hospital again following surgery, and denied adequate care. Peaceful political opposition leaders remain in jail.

None of this is the fault of the sports reporters covering this week’s F1, but there a couple of questions they might take a moment to consider:

...If peaceful protestors are targeted in Bahrain in the coming days because it’s the F1 weekend, isn’t that part of the sports story too?

...Should those reporters who get in try to meet the dissidents their colleagues can’t?

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18 April 2017

Bahrain cracks down on Formula One protestors

Author: PressTV (Iran)

Security forces in Bahrain have cracked down hard on people protesting the country’s hosting of the Formula One race, which they say serves to distract world attention away from the government’s large-scale rights violations. Protest rallies took place in the Bilad al-Qadeem suburb of the capital, Manama, the western Nuwaidrat Village, as well as on the Sitra Island, likewise situated in the country’s west, on Thursday, according to the Sitra Media network. Security forces were deployed to all protest sites and attacked the demonstrators to break up the rallies, according to the network, which reports on political and human rights activism in Bahrain and the authorities’ treatment of the campaigners. Pictures were also circulated across social media showing protesters burning the race’s tickets. The Bahraini regime is notorious for its lack of tolerance of political opposition and exercising discrimination against the country’s Shia majority.

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16 April 2017

Formula 1 response to NGO letter

Author: Sasha Woodward Hill, General Council (Formula 1)

...As you are aware, Formula 1 is committed to respecting human rights in all its operations. As part of that commitment, Formula 1 looks to monitor and consider the potential human rights impacts of our activities. This includes engaging with relevant stakeholders where appropriate and proportionate and as you know, we have met and spoken with your representatives on a number of occasions...We have considered carefully the matters raised in your letter and the earlier document that you sent us and we have reviewed insofar as we are able, while noting that your allegations are disputed by others. You will understand that we are not a competent authority to determine the facts, nor can we judge whether any local laws have been contravened. Therefore it is inappropriate for us to comment on the specifics of the cases you raise in your letter.

More generally, you assert that your grievances are linked to Formula 1's presence in Bahrain, but you offer no evidence for this and we refute your suggestion. The Formula One World Championship is a global sport that strives to connect different countries and different cultures through the excitement of motor sport...

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15 April 2017

If F1 can't help protect ordinary Bahrainis, stop the grand prix

Author: Sayed Alwadaei, The Guardian (UK)

The race exacerbates the human rights abuses that take place in Bahrain, with any protest or criticism being silenced to protect financial interests...While the regime in Bahrain is a hereditary monarchy who has ruled through sheer force and oppression, and the UK and the US are supposedly democracies that value human rights, they do have one crucial thing in common. They value business deals over the lives of Bahrainis. Financial interest trumps the people’s right to a life free of fear and persecution. That is why, even as horrific abuses of human rights are reported every day, both governments remain tied to Bahrain...why should [we] expect Formula One to care about the lives and rights of Bahrainis, when little such concern is shown by the governments of the UK, where Formula One is headquartered, and the US, where its owners Liberty Media reside. 

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14 April 2017

Bahrain Grand Prix should be cancelled, say human rights groups

Author: Billy Briggs, The Ferret (UK)

A human rights organisation has accused Bahrain’s security forces of involvement in the deaths of three men, including Mustafa Hamdan who died in March after being shot by masked men during a protest. The Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has highlighted the deaths of Hamdan, Salah Abbas and Ali Abdulghani ahead of the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.  The sporting event – the country’s biggest – should be cancelled, BIRD says. BIRD has also condemned the UK Government for assisting a regime at the centre of murder and torture allegations, by having spent millions of pounds on training its controversial police force.

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7 April 2017

Formula 1 will land in Bahrain next week. Do we forget the country’s human rights abuses?

Author: Sophie Baggott, openDemocracy

In past years the Grand Prix has taken place alongside violent repression, even deaths, in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Human rights campaigners fear what the 2017 race might trigger...The night before the 2012 event a father of five, Salah Abbas, was killed by police after having been tortured and shot. The Bahrain Grand Prix went on. Just before last year’s event a 17-year-old boy, Ali Abdulghani, was reportedly hit twice by a police vehicle and, as the 2016 race came to a close, he died from injuries suffered during the arrest. The violence happened in a village only three miles from Bahrain International Circuit. 

Sayed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), warns that... "Arbitrary arrests always increase when the race is held, and many of those arrested are then tortured and unfairly prosecuted. “Formula 1 should not forget their responsibility to ensure the safety of the people of the host country. If Formula 1 cannot do that, then the Grand Prix should not go to Bahrain,” Alwadaei added.

[A] Bahrain government spokesperson said the country had implemented "a range of institutional and legal reforms over recent years, in close collaboration with international governments and independent experts.” The spokesperson continued: “As a result of these efforts, Bahrain now has a number of internationally recognised safeguards in place to ensure human rights abuses do not occur."

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6 April 2017

Bahrain: Rights Groups to F1: Cancel the Race if You Can't Guarantee Safety

Author: Article 19 (UK)

The Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain should be cancelled unless it can uphold its human rights commitments, say human rights NGO’s in a letter made public today...Husain Abdulla, Executive Director, ADHRB, said: “Two years after reaching an agreement with F1 we have serious doubts whether they are really taking their human rights policies seriously. Independent reports of human rights violations and the adverse effects of the race on the overall human rights conditions have been shared with the F1 administration, yet we’ve seen no serious actions taken, not even the implementation of their own human rights policy."

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