(Reuters) – Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said he had spoken to Bahrain officials about human rights in the country after promising last year he would not let any abuses go unnoticed.
The Mercedes driver, who will be chasing a record eighth world title in a season that starts in the Gulf kingdom on Sunday, detailed on Thursday efforts he had made to inform himself.
The Briton said in December he had been moved by a letter from the son of a jailed man facing the death penalty.
Hamilton had, however, been unable to meet officials at the time after testing positive for COVID-19 and going into self-isolation.
“It weighed quite heavily on me,” he said of the letter. “It was the first time I had received letters like that along my travels.
“So I’ve taken time in the last few months to try and educate myself because coming here all these years I wasn’t aware of all of the details, the human rights issues.
“I’ve spent time speaking to legal human rights experts, spent time talking to human rights organisations like Amnesty, have seen the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and I’ve spoken to Bahrain officials also,” he added.
Hamilton said his moves were private.
“I don’t want to say too much, that may jeopardise any progress…but I’m definitely committed to helping in any way I can,” he added.
Some 61 British parliamentarians and campaigners urged Formula One on Wednesday to commission an independent inquiry into alleged abuses linked to the Bahrain race.
Rights campaigners accuse the government of using positive publicity from the country’s most high-profile event to “sportswash”.
The Bahrain government said it had “a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind and has put in place internationally recognised human rights safeguards”.
It added in a statement that institutional and legal reforms had been implemented along with the establishment of an independent Ombudsman to “fully and independently investigate any allegation of mistreatment”.
“Where arrests take place and convictions are sought due to clear breaches of the law, these rely on the process of an independent court system which upholds the legal rights of all individuals throughout,” the government said.
Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali said in his reply to the open letter from campaigners that the sport took human rights very seriously and had made its position clear to all partners.
He added, however, that Formula One was “not a cross border investigatory organisation” and was not able to undertake the action requested.
Hamilton said it was not in his power to choose where to race but it was right to speak out.
“I don’t think we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places and arriving, having a great time and then leave,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)