Bahrain prisoner urges Hamilton not to be 'muzzled' by FIA

A prisoner in Bahrain has urged seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton not to be silenced by the FIA. 
Bahrain prisoner urges Hamilton not to be 'muzzled' by FIA

In an update to the International Sporting Code for the upcoming 2023 season, F1 drivers will be forbidden from making “political, religious and personal statements” without the FIA’s permission.

The likes of Hamilton and fellow multiple world champion Sebastian Vettel, who has since retired from F1, have regularly used their platform to make statements and wear t-shirts bearing messages before races. 

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Hamilton has previously raised concerns about the locations F1 races in, with the likes of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi all strongly criticised for abuse by human rights organisations. 

Ali Alhajee, who previously wrote to Hamilton ahead of last year’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix explaining how he had made a difference and inspired prisoners, has once again reached out to the Mercedes driver. 

Alhajee has asked Hamilton to continue to take a stand despite being made a “primary target” of the FIA’s new rule. 

"I would like to share with you the disappointment I felt after learning that political and religious statements were banned by the FIA; a decision that, in my opinion, perpetuates a policy which muzzles drivers and who makes you its primary target,” he wrote. “I therefore ask you to fight this policy.

“What makes you stand [out] from other F1 drivers is that you go beyond the circuit track by acting upon your passion for protecting the rights of others. What I felt from your words and actions in previous F1 seasons gave me, and other prisoners of conscience in Bahrain, a glimmer of hope.”

Alhajee also criticised FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, adding: “I know that the president is an Emirati and one of his vice-presidents is a Bahraini, both of whom belong to regimes whose prisons are crowded with prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders."

FIA accused of 'suppressing drivers' 

Bahrain prisoner urges Hamilton not to be 'muzzled' by FIA

It comes after the FIA were accused of “suppressing drivers’ freedom of speech” by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird). 

According to Reuters, Bird director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei wrote in a letter that the FIA’s move "appears to be a reaction to drivers, in particular Lewis Hamilton, raising their concerns about the locations chosen for F1 races, including the human rights records of host countries, and making powerful interventions where your own organisation has been silent.” 

Alwadaei added Hamilton has “used his platform to express support for Black Lives Matter and human rights in countries with problematic human rights records, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”

He continued: “Throughout his career, none of the statements Hamilton has made can be considered any more political than the decision by the FIA to withdraw from racing in Russia in the last season due to its invasion of Ukraine. 

"In your own statement last year, you condemned the Russian invasion and expressed 'sadness and shock' for victims in Ukraine. While I applaud this statement, it is clearly a political one.”

Alwadaei issued a further statement to BBC Sport, which read: "When the FIA and F1 choose to grant races to some of the world's most repressive regimes, like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, they are facilitating sports-washing and allowing these dictatorships to launder their horrifying rights records.

"It is seriously disturbing to see the FIA now mimicking the tactics of its despotic business partners by attempting to muzzle the voices of critics and advocates.

"Where the FIA and F1 failed, it was drivers like Lewis Hamilton who stood up and called out abuse, and his vocal support for political prisoners in Bahrain shed light on appalling injustice.

"Now, the FIA wants to silence him and others, and punish them if they dare to speak out. We are saying to Mohammed Ben Sulayem that this policy is wrong and it must be reversed immediately."

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