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Bahrain Grand Prix: The shocking imprisonment of Najah Yusuf shows why F1 has a huge role to play in fighting human rights abuses

Comment: Najah, a civil servant from Bahrain, was imprisoned in 2017 for posting on Facebook calling the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled. She has faced torture, sexual abuse and been denied legal representation. Hearing about her treatment has shocked me to my core, writes the Liberal Democrat’s Paul Scriven

Paul Scriven
Friday 29 March 2019 10:46 GMT
There have been numerous protests against Formula One staging a Grand Prix in Bahrain
There have been numerous protests against Formula One staging a Grand Prix in Bahrain (AFP)

Earlier this month I went to meet with Sacha Woodward Hill, the General Counsel of the Formula One Group. Not a usual place to find a Liberal Democrat, but my campaign over the past few years against the human rights abuses in Bahrain has meant Formula One now has a role to play with the Grand Prix being held there frequently, the first time back in 2004.

Since the Arab Spring, we have witnessed a gross abuse of human rights by the Bahraini government. Civilian and military courts continue to imprison peaceful protestors, fail to hold officials guilty of torture to account and since January 2018 over 200 people have been stripped of their citizenship. Bahrain has responded with particular brutality to those protesting against the Grand Prix being held there. In 2012, Salah Abbas Habib was shot dead whilst protesting against the race.

One case I have been particularly vocal about has been the imprisonment of Najah Yusuf.

Najah, a civil servant from Bahrain, was imprisoned back in 2017 following her posting on Facebook for the Grand Prix in Bahrain to be cancelled. Since then she has faced torture, sexual abuse and been denied legal representation. Hearing about her treatment has shocked me to my core.

Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have been critical of the treatments of dissenters in Bahrain. However, by contrast the Conservative Government has remained eerily silent whilst Formula One have attempted to claim it has had nothing to do with them.

However, this simply will not wash.

Formula One Group were linked by the Court during Najah’s trial both in evidence and during the judgement. This is a case firmly on their doorstep and they must do the right thing. And this is exactly what I said in my meeting with Sacha Woodward Hill.

And this is the thing, it would be entirely right for them to take a stance. It has been done before – human rights abuses and sporting events are sadly not often far apart – but on occasion global players in the sporting field have done the right thing rather than turn a blind eye.

No End to Torture in Bahrain - Human Rights Watch

Equally, I also made it clear in the meeting clear that Formula One Group cannot take the Bahrainian Government’s word as true. The shocking abuse and disregard for human rights is transparent for all to see. There is no excuse, Formula One must act.

What must happen now is protestors such as Najah must be released. There must be thorough and independent investigation conducted on behalf of the Formula One Group. Once this has found similar evidence of the abuse of human rights as the United Nations did, they must unilaterally withdraw their races from Bahrain.

I intend to keep up the pressure until this is done.

The Bahrain Grand Prix has caused numerous protests since its first running in 2004 (Getty)

Whether it is making the case to the UK Government that they must maintain our commitment to human rights and democracy, making clear to the international community we regard these values as universal, or saying to Lewis Hamilton that you cannot win world titles on the back of human rights abuses without realising you have a moral responsibility, the Liberal Democrats are clear that we will not stand by and watch individuals human rights be abused.

Formula One is a great sport, but every day that the Formula One Group fails to act is not only an insult to all those who support them, but an injustice to all those facing appalling abuse that they are complicit in.

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