Formula One bosses criticised over Bahrain protester
6th March 2019

Formula One bosses have been accused of turning a “blind eye” to the plight of a woman jailed after protesting against the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Najah Yousef is a Bahraini woman imprisoned for three years after protesting against the 2017 race and claims she was beaten and sexually abused while in custody.

In a court ruling against her, posts she made on Facebook were cited.

She wrote: “No to Formula One races on occupied Bahraini land” and called for “freedom for the formula detainees”, placing a focus on protesters jailed for criticising the Bahrain Grand Prix, which has been held in the country since 2004.

But Sky News has obtained a letter sent by Formula One’s general counsel Sacha Woodward Hill to human rights groups Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Human Rights Watch. It appears to accept a different explanation from the Bahraini government for Ms Yousef’s detention.

The letter reads: “We were assured that anyone who merely criticised or continues to criticise Formula One in Bahrain is free to do so, can say whatever they want and would be left alone to do so.

“We also continue to engage with the promoters of the Bahrain Grand Prix on our commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights, which of course includes freedom of expression.”

But Ms Yousef’s supporters have accused Formula One organisers of turning a blind eye to her plight.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD, said: “As Bahrain’s Grand Prix is set to take place later this month, Formula One is sending an appalling message that its supposed commitment to human rights in reality means nothing.

“Formula One’s decision to continually rely on false assurances by the Bahraini government, including that Najah’s imprisonment has nothing to do with her criticism of the Grand Prix, is extremely disappointing.”

“Months have passed since Formula One initially raised concerns for Ms Yousef, and yet no changes have been reflected in her situation. If anything, her situation has worsened in the interim. She remains unlawfully imprisoned, having last seen her family almost six months ago.”

Bahrain was widely criticised for its pursuit of refugee footballer Hakeem al Araibi, who had previously criticised the regime. He spent two months in a Thailand jail after Bahrain issued a red notice through Interpol for his extradition before they eventually relented under huge political pressure.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven was involved in the al Araibi case and will meet with Formula One bosses next week.

He says drivers like Britain’s five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton may have to consider boycotting the race.

“The first port of call is the Formula One organisers itself but if they continue to hold the race there, drivers like Lewis Hamilton may have to consider a boycott,” he said,

Aya Majzoub, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “We are very disappointed by Formula One’s weak response to our letter urging them to take action.

“Formula One’s response indicates that it is willing to look the other way while Bahrain engages in severe human rights abuses, and it is complicit in Bahrain’s attempted use of the Grand Prix to whitewash those abuses.”

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