Posted on Dec 04, 2021
Lewis Hamilton says he is not comfortable with racing in Saudi Arabia due to the country's human rights record.
"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do. But it's not my choice to be here. The sport has taken a choice to be here," he said.
"And whether it's right or wrong, while we are here, it's important we do try to raise awareness."
F1's decision to race in Saudi Arabia, which is hosting its inaugural race on a new street track in the coastal city of Jeddahhas, been criticised by human rights groups. Amnesty International has said Saudi's record is "extremely troubling" and that the race is being used to "sports-wash" the country's reputation.
Amnesty's UK chief executive officer, Sacha Deshmukh, said it was "encouraging" to see Hamilton speaking out on human rights, adding that the past three years had seen an "unprecedented human rights crackdown" in the country.
"This isn't just about Lewis Hamilton," Deshmukh said. "We're calling on all within Formula 1 - the drivers, their teams, senior executives - to be prepared to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia, helping to undo some of the sports-washing effects of this event."
Over the last few years, the Saudi Arabian authorities have invested heavily in PR stunts to rebrand their image and attempt to deflect attention from their brutal crackdown on activists and human rights defenders. Although we saw a brief lull in executions and prosecutions of activists during Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 summit, that ended immediately after the event when the authorities ramped up their repression once again... Any company holding major events in Saudi Arabia must identify, mitigate or prevent any human right abuses that it may cause, contribute to or be directly linked to through its operations, products and services, including Formula 1 and its Grand Prix races.”
Hamilton said he would again be wearing the helmet he wore at the last race in Qatar, which is painted with the rainbow flag in support of LGBTQ+ rights.
He described the situation for LGBTQ+ people in Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is prohibited and punishable by flogging and imprisonment, as "pretty terrifying".
And in referring to the decision in 2018 to end the ban on women being able to drive, he said: "There are changes that need to be made. For example, women's rights of being allowed to drive since 2018. It is how they are policed. Are they really [allowed], in effect? Why are there women still in prison from driving many years ago? There is a lot of change that needs to happen and I think our sport needs to do more."
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who has also expressed his concern on human rights issues this season, organised a karting event for women on Thursday in Jeddah.
The Aston Martin driver said: "I was thinking of what I can do. In general, we have so much focus on negative examples when it comes to shortcomings of certain countries in regards to human rights and other things."
He added: "It's true obviously if we look through a western-European lens there are lot of things that should be improved and have to be addressed. But it's also true some things are changing and for those people it makes a big difference.
"It's clear some things aren't going the way they should but that's our point of view. It's also probably true that things take time and it's progress."
In December 2020, shortly after the end of the G20 Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian authorities resumed their crackdown on freedom of expression, targeting human rights defenders as well as anyone who has expressed views critical of the government. After an 85% fall in recorded executions in 2020, at least 40 people were put to death between January and July 2021 – more than during all of 2020. On 15 June, Saudi authorities executed Mustafa al-Darwish, a young man who was arrested in 2015 for allegedly participating in anti-government protests in the Eastern Province, following a grossly unfair trial.
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