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Pressure mounts on Formula 1 to address human rights concerns in Bahrain

Formula One drivers, teams and sponsors have been urged to follow Lewis Hamilton's lead by shining a light on human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The new season opens on Saturday in an event billed by the Gulf state as '20 Years of a Modern Classic', yet is the subject of a joint letter by 27 rights groups and trade unions stating that the Grand Prix is being used to "sportswash the country's dire human rights record".

In addition, Lord Paul Scriven has accused senior F1 bosses of "living in a parallel universe" after they failed to acknowledge his letter to chief executive Stefano Domenicali, sent on February 14, calling for evidence to prove their claim that the race is a 'force for good' in Bahrain.

Mercedes' seven-time world champion Hamilton has been praised for drawing attention to the plight of the country's political prisoners and Lord Scriven, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, believes other influential voices should also act.

"I think it's now going to come down to two groups of people because it's very clear that the senior leadership of F1 don't give a damn," Lord Scriven told a press conference in central London.

"All they're bothered about is the money, the glitz and glam and the prestige they get from this.

"Lewis Hamilton has taken an ethical stance and gone beyond what we expect somebody to do by themselves, so it's now down to other drivers and the teams themselves. The teams have got to stand up.

"But where is the spotlight from the corporate sponsors of F1? Where are they in all this?

"They must stand up and say to F1, 'You have to carry out your commitment to take proportionate steps to understand and monitor through due diligence the potential for human rights impacts'.

"In Bahrain people don't have basic rights – they can't vote freely, they can't voice their opinions freely and they can't read free press. If they do stand up for their rights, they get persecuted.

"Do these companies really want to be associated with that? It's clear that F1 leaders do want to be associated with it because they've not given us the evidence to prove that they are a force for good.

"If drivers, teams and sponsors start speaking up then questions start to be asked. That's why they have a moral responsibility to highlight it to fans."

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a country of 1.5million inhabitants that is ruled by a hereditary monarchy.

King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa is the current head of state and his son Prince Nasser acts as Prime Minister. Opposition groups have been banned.

The nation was subject to a pro-democracy uprising in 2011 as part of the 'Arab Spring' and since it was quelled there has been a brutal crackdown on peaceful dissent.

In response to Lord Scriven and the letter sent by the rights groups and trade unions, F1 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."

The opening F1 grand prix of the season will take place in Bahrain on March 2.

Read More: Toto Wolff: Mercedes star Kimi Antonelli will be a great F1 driver one day (planetsport.com)

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