Should Formula 1 star driver Lewis Hamilton speak out for the rights of the Saudi Arabian people by refusing to participate in a race there? 45 human rights and foreign policy organizations think he should and have published this open letter urging him to do so. What do you think? Here is the letter:
Dear Lewis Hamilton,
Congratulations on another successful Formula 1 season. Not only have you won race after race, you’ve also led Formula 1 in issues of diversity and justice. We commend your dedication to raising awareness about issues that are important to you and we hope you will continue your advocacy into the 2021 F1 season. As organisations concerned deeply with the human rights abuses carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we ask that you reconsider your participation in the upcoming race being hosted in Saudi Arabia in 2021. If this is not possible due to prior commitments, we ask that you make a statement at this race.
After receiving a letter from the son of a Bahraini torture victim, you had expressed you wanted to reach out to the leaders of Bahrain but were unable to when you contracted the coronavirus. We appreciate your dedication to human rights, and we think that the 2021 Formula 1 season presents an opportunity to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia. For the first time in Formula 1’s history, Saudi Arabia will be hosting a race in 2021. We think that this race is a key place to make a statement regarding human rights. You stated in a previous interview that you did not know enough about the Saudi government’s human rights record, so to help provide context we have outlined the key issues surrounding the egregious human rights abuses of the Saudi Kingdom.
Detention of Women’s Rights Activists: Saudi leaders have imprisoned women’s rights activists for calling for the same reforms the kingdom and MBS so publicly tout as advancements in support of women’s rights. For example, Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain AlHathloul was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia from May 2018 until February 2021 in retribution for her campaigning (successfully) for women to secure the right to drive in the Kingdom. Following her arrest, Loujain endured waterboarding, electroshock, beatings, sexual assault, and more. In 2019, she was offered release in exchange for making a video claiming that she had not been tortured. She refused and remained in prison. Her case was moved to a terrorism court after nearly three years in pre-trial detention and Loujain was sentenced on 28 December 2020 to 5 years and 8 months in prison. Her release in early 2021 was conditional, as she is still on probation and a 5-year travel ban where she will be unable to leave Saudi Arabia. The United Nations and over 40 states at the UN Human Rights Council called for her release, as well as the release of other detained Saudi women’s rights defenders, many of whom are still in prison.
The war on Yemen: The leaders of Saudi Arabia are also waging a brutal war on Yemen that is starving almost twenty million people in the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. In 2015, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia started bombing Yemen. Saudi Arabia then imposed a land, air, and sea blockade on the country, leaving Yemen to starve. A report released by Save the Children in 2018 estimated that about 85,o00 children died of starvation in Yemen. Because of the blockade and war, Yemen is dealing with one of the highest COVID death rates in the world. A recent UN report indicates that there are 13.5 million people facing high levels of food insecurity which will increase to 16.2 in the first half of 2021. The UN calls Yemen the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
The brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi: In October 2018, agents ordered by the Saudi government brutally murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw while he was still alive in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The murder of this dissident journalist sparked mass criticism of the Saudi government. Saudi leaders tried to cover up this murder and ultimately failed. An investigation by UN expert Agnes Callamard concluded that the murder was a “premeditated extrajudicial killing” that was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level state officials of Saudi Arabia.”
Mr. Hamilton, we believe there are many ways for you to make a statement at this race. Using your platform could be as simple as tweeting Loujain AlHathloul’s story and calling on the Saudi government to #FreeLoujain unconditionally by lifting her travel ban, letting her family travel, and dropping her charges. On top of that, Loujain’s family is calling for the people who tortured Loujain to be held accountable. Given that Loujain was punished for driving, you could put a sticker of Loujain on your car during the race. Another suggestion is for you to wear a shirt on the day of the race calling on the Saudi government to #FreeLoujain and stop their war on Yemen. The organizers of this letter would be happy to provide you with any materials needed or meet with you to discuss action ideas and our concerns further.
We hope you choose to continue your brave advocacy in Formula 1 and speak out on the human rights issues taking place in the countries where you race. Your voice could be critical in this movement to free women’s human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and end the suffering of millions of people in Yemen.