16 Rights Groups Raise Bahrain Human Rights Concerns with Formula One 

25 November 2020 – Today, 16 rights groups and trade unions including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Federation and members of the Sport and Rights Alliance sent a joint letter to Formula One (F1) CEO Chase Carey, ahead of the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. The letter urges F1 to secure justice for victims of abuses linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix, protect the rights of protesters and enact their human rights policy to ensure their business practices do not contribute to human rights abuses, in light of the “worsening” human rights situation in the country.

The letter emphasises that F1 plays a central role in ‘sportswashing’ the Bahraini government’s human rights abuses and by “increasing F1’s presence in the country at this volatile time” they are “performing  invaluable PR for Bahrain’s government and risk further normalising the violation of human rights in the country”.

The letter urges Carey to use his leverage to “secure justice, accountability and compensation for victims of abuses” linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix, including the family of Salah Abbas, who was murdered by security forces on the eve of the 2012 race and Najah Yusuf, who was tortured, sexually assaulted and imprisoned for two years after criticising the Grand Prix on Facebook in 2017. The groups further expressed concern for Najah’s 17-year-old son, Kameel, who faces over 20 years in prison, in what  Amnesty International deems a “reprisal against his mother”.

Noting the postponement of the race in March due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19, the letter further highlights the need for F1 to demonstrate “the same concern for the Bahraini people, who are facing the pandemic amidst a renewed government crackdown” which has seen a dramatic rise in death penalty and continued curtailment of freedom of expression, assembly and association. The letter added that in the month of the race alone, 18 individuals were arrested for commenting on the death of Bahrain’s prime minister, including a 16-year old girl and a 14-year old boy.

The letter also calls on F1 to enact their human rights policy to ensure that their business practices are not contributing to abuses in Bahrain. The policy was adopted in 2015 following mediation with Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), after they lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Commenting, Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Human Rights & Democracy in Bahrain (ADHRB) said: “Although rights groups compelled Formula One to enact a human rights policy in 2015, they have largely remained silent over the abuses of their business partner. Without implementation, this policy is nothing but a piece of paper. Repression in Bahrain continues to worsen and rather than considering their role in sportswashing human rights abuses, Formula One has instead awarded Bahrain new races.”

  Commenting, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD): “Just as the regime has renewed its crackdown on all forms of dissent, F1 has decided to increase their presence in Bahrain with the launch of a second Grand Prix. In the weeks before the race, dozens have been arrested, including school children as young as 14, over social media posts. By once again turning a blind eye to the dire state of human rights in Bahrain, F1 is sending a message to dictators around the world: abuses will not only be tolerated, they will be rewarded”.