Today, 45 organizations representing millions of people around the world sent a joint letter to Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton calling on him to speak out against the Saudi government's human rights abuses and boycott the Formula 1 race scheduled to be held in Saudi Arabia in the latter part of 2021. This race marks the first time Saudi Arabia has ever hosted a Formula 1 event. The letter, signed by groups ranging from foreign policy organizations to faith-based groups, outlines specific concerns with the human rights abuses carried out by the government of Saudi Arabia. The organizations write specifically about the Saudi-led war on Yemen, the treatment of women’s rights defenders like Loujain AlHathloul, and the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The letter thanks Hamilton for his dedication to human rights and issues of diversity in Formula 1. Hamilton was a vocal advocate for Black Lives Matter and expressed concern for Bahraini torture victims when the sport traveled to Bahrain in the 2020 season.
Danaka Katovich, the Yemen Campaign Coordinator for CODEPINK, said, “Hamilton has shown time and time again that he cares deeply for people around the world. I hope he is compelled to stand with Saudi human rights defenders like Loujain AlHathloul. The most decorated Formula 1 driver in the history of the sport demanding freedom for activists and justice for Yemen would certainly speak volumes to the world.”
“As organizations 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.” The signers of the letter call on Hamilton to make a statement at the race itself if a boycott of the race is not a possibility.
Dr. Aisha Jumaan, the Yemeni-born founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, said, “The U.N. reported that 2.3 million Yemeni children under five years of age are experiencing famine. This is due to the Saudi war and blockade on Yemen.” Dr. Jumaan added to Hamilton, “I hope that you send their agonized parents a message of solidarity by boycotting the race.”
The letter also highlights the experiences of Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain AlHathloul, who was released from prison in February 2021 after being sentenced by a terrorism court for her activism. While detained she experienced torture and threats of violence. Her release comes with conditions as she remains on probation and is not allowed to leave Saudi Arabia for five years. “It is our sincere hope as a family that Mr. Hamilton considers the gravity of supporting a country like Saudi Arabia that imprisons and tortures its own citizens like my sister Loujain. Although she has been released from prison, she is far from free. Why is she forbidden from speaking out about her experiences in prison? We all know what they want to hide. It is through Mr. Hamilton's boycott that we can apply pressure to demand the truth and continue to send a message to Saudi Arabia that they cannot sports-wash their continued human rights violations away,” said Lina AlHathloul.
The organizations are concerned with “sportswashing,” where a country hosts sporting events to distract from its poor human rights record. Sunjeev Bery, executive director of Freedom Forward, stated, “Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship is using sports and entertainment events in a desperate attempt to hide its horrifying human rights record from the world. As a voice for freedom, Lewis Hamilton should take a stand in support of the peaceful reformers and activists who are languishing in Saudi Arabia’s prisons. Hamilton should boycott the race until Saudi Arabia’s monarchy embraces reform.”
# # #
Full letter and signatories below:
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 organizations 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.
#FreeLoujain Campaign - Action Corps - Alliance for Global Justice - ALQST for Human Rights - Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - Avaaz - Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz - CAPA DePaul - Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia - Chicago Area Peace Action - Chicago Committee Against War and Racism - CIVICUS: Global Alliance for Citizen Participation - Clearinghouse on Women's Issues - CODEPINK - Equality Now - Fellowship of Reconciliation - Feminist Majority Foundation - Freedom Forward - Grassroots Global Justice Alliance - Green Party Peace Action - Indiana Center for Middle East Peace - International Service for Human Rights - Just Foreign Policy - London Students for Yemen - Martin Ennals Foundation - MENA Rights Group - Muslim Peace Fellowship - On Earth Peace - Peace Action - PEACEWORKERS - Project Blueprint - Rethinking Foreign Policy - RootsAction.org - Stop the War UK - Tunisian United Network - United for Peace and Justice - University Network for Human Rights - Veterans For Peace - WESPAC Foundation, Inc. - West Suburban Peace Coalition - Western New York Peace Center - Women's March Global - World BEYOND War - Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation - Yemeni Alliance Committee