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Hamilton still burdened by Bahrain human rights issues

Hamilton still burdened by Bahrain human rights issues

Hamilton still burdened by Bahrain human rights issues

Ian Parkes & Will Gray
Hamilton still burdened by Bahrain human rights issues

Lewis Hamilton has revealed to speaking with lawyers, Amnesty International and the Bahraini ambassador over the winter ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix as he continues to feel burdened by human rights issues in the country.

Hamilton had hoped to address the subject with the Crown Prince at the end of last season but tested positive for Covid-19 in between the Bahrain and Sakhir Grands Prix and was unable to do so.

The seven-time F1 champion has since tried to reach out to three torture survivors who wrote to him before the last race in November.

In December, Hamilton also received a letter from 11-year-old Ahmed Ramadhan, the son of a man facing the death penalty in Bahrain, asking for help.

"I received those letters last year, which weighed quite heavily on me,” said Hamilton. “It's the first time I'd received letters like that on my travels. So for the last few months, I've taken time to try and educate myself.

“Coming here all these years I wasn't aware of all of the details of the human rights issues.

“I spent time speaking to legal human rights experts, human rights organisations, Amnesty [International], I saw the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and I also spoke to Bahraini officials.

"At the moment the steps I've taken really have been in private, and that’s the right way to go about it. I don't really want to say too much that may jeopardise progress but I'm definitely committed to helping in any way I can."

On Wednesday, a group of 61 British MPs wrote a letter to F1, the teams and Hamilton, requesting the sport set up an independent inquiry into human rights abuses in Bahrain.

It is understood that F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali rejected that suggestion and will not be progressing with any research, but Hamilton has said he is taking a personal interest.

Asked if F1 should be taking a position on human rights abuses, Hamilton responded: “It's not in my power to choose where we go and race.

"In terms of whether it's Formula 1's responsibility, I don't know if that's for me to say, but I'm taking steps and understanding.

"As a sport, we do go to a lot of different places, visit a lot of beautiful, different countries and naturally there are issues all around the world.

"I don't think we should be going to these countries and ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a great time and [then] leave."

The sport has been criticised for failing to act on human rights issues despite holding many races and test sessions at the Bahrain International Circuit since the Middle East's first F1 race was run there in 2004.

After the 2011 event was cancelled due to the Bahraini Uprising, it was reinstated a year later despite calls for a cancellation due to reports of the ongoing use of excessive force by authorities.

Photojournalist Ahmed Ismael Hassan al-Samadi was fatally shot covering a protest against that race and activist Salah Abbas Habib was killed during a demonstration on the eve of the grand prix.

The race, however, has continued to feature on the F1 calendar ever since.

The sport has also courted further controversy when it announced the introduction of a Saudi Arabian event, which will take place this year.

In a statement, an F1 spokesperson said: “We believe that shutting countries off from sport is not the right approach and engagement is far better than isolation.

“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.”

Hamilton has taken an increasingly influential role in off-track issues in the last year, notably leading the #WeRaceAsOne campaign and making his voice heard in the stand against racial and social inequality with Black Lives Matter.

The world champion, who was recently knighted by the Queen, added: "Reflecting on the powerful position we are in and the responsibility [we have], I don't think human rights should be a political issue. We all deserve equal rights.”


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