British politicians call on F1 to take action over Saudi Arabia's human rights record

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- A group of British politicians has written to Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali encouraging the sport to take action over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

The first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will take place in Jeddah on Sunday against a backdrop of accusations of "sportswashing" by human rights groups.

The group of British politicians, which includes four members of the House of Commons and three members of the House of Lords, said the death penalty continues to be used in Saudi Arabia against children, non-violent offenders and people exercising their right to free speech.

"Staging a race in Jeddah without addressing these grave violations of international law risks being seen as a tacit endorsement of them," the letter to Domenicali read.

"As a hugely popular international brand, putting on sporting events enjoyed by millions, Formula One has an ethical duty to ensure that its presence in a country does not provide a screen for human rights abuses."

It added: "We urge you [F1] to take the opportunity afforded by the Saudi Grand Prix to advance meaningful human rights reform in the Kingdom, by publicly calling on the authorities to abolish the death penalty for all childhood crimes and for all non-violent offences, with no exceptions."

The letter cited the case of Mustafa al-Darwish, who was executed on June 15 after being arrested for protest-related offences, such as "sowing discord", when he was 17. The letter claimed his conviction was based on a false statement after days of severe torture.

Asked for response to the letter, an F1 spokesperson said: "For decades Formula One has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula One are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.

"We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counterparties and those in our supply chain, which are enshrined in contracts, and we pay close attention to their adherence."

Human rights group Amnesty International has also accused Sunday's race of diverting attention from Saudi Arabia's "dismal" human rights record.

Amnesty claims Saudi Arabia resumed a crackdown on free speech after hosting the G20 Summit in 2020 and reports that 39 individuals remain imprisoned in the kingdom for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa regional director, said: "Over the last few years, the Saudi Arabian authorities have invested heavily in PR stunts to rebrand their image and attempt to deflect attention from their brutal crackdown on activists and human rights defenders.

"Although we saw a brief lull in executions and prosecutions of activists during Saudi Arabia's presidency of the G20 summit, that ended immediately after the event when the authorities ramped up their repression once again.

"The Saudi Arabia authorities need to realise that the best PR comes from respecting human rights.

"If the authorities want to be perceived differently, they should immediately and unconditionally release all those incarcerated for peacefully expressing their views, lift all travel bans and impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

"Foreign governments wishing to deepen their relations with Saudi Arabia should urge the authorities to address their egregious human rights record.

"Any company holding major events in Saudi Arabia must identify, mitigate or prevent any human right abuses that it may cause, contribute to or be directly linked to through its operations, products and services, including Formula 1 and its Grand Prix races."