Relatives of imprisoned Saudi dissidents penned a letter, shared exclusively with The Independent, asking the British racing driver, a seven-time world champion, to show his opposition to Saudi Arabia’s “attempted sports-washing of widespread torture, false imprisonment, state-sanctioned murder”.
Lina al-Hathloul, the younger sister of a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist who was previously jailed, is among the signatories asking Hamilton to wear the t-shirt while driving on the F1 grid in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
Human rights organisations say Loujain has been forced to endure abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual harassment while in jail. Loujain, who successfully campaigned to win Saudi women the right to drive, was arrested alongside 10 other women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia in May 2018 – weeks before the country reversed the driving ban.
Saudi officials have denied the torture allegations against Loujain who was released from jail in February after 1,001 days in custody.
Grant Liberty, a human rights charity that spearheaded the letter, is asking Hamilton to wear a T-shirt printed with 2.10.18 — the date when Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Saudi’s Istanbul consulate.
The body of the 59-year-old journalist, who had enraged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by criticising the country, has never been recovered and Western intelligence services deem it to have been dismembered. Saudi Arabia has denied claims the prince was involved in the incident.
Grant Liberty sent the letter to Hamilton on behalf of close family members of jailed Saudi citizens, Loujain, Salman al-Odah, Abdul Rahman al-Sadhan, Aida al-Ghamdi - with the organisation claiming each had been arrested on “dubious charges” and then tortured while incarcerated in prison in Saudi.
“We ask that you use your visit to Saudi Arabia’s first ever F1 event to call upon the country’s rulers to uphold human rights - just as you did in Bahrain earlier this year,” the letter’s signatories said.
“When you line up on the grid, please remember that prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia are being tortured, sexually assaulted, and continue to be jailed for years without charge, often in solitary confinement, separated from their families and denied legal counsel and medical care.
“They include women’s rights campaigners, reformist clerics, Shia activists, democracy campaigners, journalists, charity staff and human rights workers - indeed anyone who dares question the regime.”
The letter notes Hamilton has made pledges to both “human rights and equality” and “fought against discrimination and prejudice” - adding that the racer has used his “conscience” to draw attention to “inequality in an elite sport”.
Hamilton has publicly lent his backing to Breyonne Taylor, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai and her Malala Fund, the signatories added.
“The Saudi regime are using you and the F1 teams to help launder its reputation,” the letter states.
“They want your appearance to sports-wash their image – they want you to try and make the world turn a blind eye to their oppression, or worse, to accept their brutality and murder like the macabre state-sanctioned killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a legitimate way to govern.
“We write to you today and implore that you seize this opportunity to once more send a powerful message – one that says human rights matter.”
Meanwhile, Lucy Rae, a spokesperson for Grant Liberty, said the race is part of a slew of instances of “Machiavellian sports-washing” including “buying premier football clubs and hosting golf tournaments.”
She added: “We know conscientious sports stars like Lewis Hamilton aren’t fooled easily. Instead of being used, he has the opportunity to tell Saudi Arabia if it wishes to show the world it has changed, it must begin real reform and end the abuse of peaceful activists.”
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