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Bahrain: Torture victims file legal complaint against Formula One

Najah Yusuf and Hajer Mansoor say the company has breached its own human rights guidelines and have asked the UK government to investigate
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton wins the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in March 2021 (AFP)
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton wins the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in March 2021 (AFP)

Two Bahraini women allegedly tortured after protesting Formula One's Grand Prix in the kingdom have filed a legal complaint against the company saying it has breached the human rights standards it pledged to follow.

Najah Yusuf, Hajer Mansoor and the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), which is also party to the complaint, contend that F1 failed to conduct human rights due diligence before Bahrain was awarded the longest contract in the company's history in February.

Yusuf, who was allegedly imprisoned and tortured for three years following her social media criticism of F1, said in a statement on Thursday that she was "heartbroken" by F1's inaction. 

“My life was changed forever by this race. To see my letters ignored by F1 is heartbreaking. I need their help in getting justice. It seems like they only care about profits," Yusuf said. 

'My life was changed forever by this race' 

- Najah Yusuf 

Yusuf and the others allege that, despite attempts by the Bahraini government to use the event to "sportwash" the kingdom's image, human rights abuses by authorities suppressing protests spike each year when the Grand Prix is held.

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Formula 1 did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

The complaint was lodged on Wednesday with the UK National Contact Point (UK NCP), which is part of the UK's international trade department and handles allegations of British firms breaking guidelines of the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In 2015, F1 established a human rights policy following similar legal action by Bahraini rights advocates. Current complainants say F1 is failing to implement that policy or respond to their correspondence.

Yusuf, a former civil servant and mother of four who lives in Bahrain, condemned F1 and the Bahraini government in a 2017 Facebook post, calling the Grand Prix "nothing more than a way for the al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations," referring to the island kingdom's ruling royal family.

Yusuf says she was assaulted, tortured and imprisoned for three years following the post and only released by royal pardon in August 2019 after international pressure.

Personal risk

Mansoor was arrested, allegedly tortured and imprisoned in 2017 in connection with her protest activities and over charges she planted fake bombs. She was released in 2020.

She has long denied the charges and supporters believe she was held as reprisal for the protest activities of her son-in-law, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, who is the director of Bird. 

Alwadaei was shot by police birdshot in 2012 during an anti-F1 protest. 

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Mansoor's son and Alwadaei's brother-in-law, Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, is serving an 11-year prison sentence. He was arrested at the age of 18 and like his mother, he was convicted on charges he planted fake bombs.

In 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that his detention was arbitrary. 

Mansoor, who lives in Bahrain, said in a statement she was taking a personal risk participating in the complaint.

"My son is currently serving an arbitrary prison sentence over fabricated charges, partly as a reprisal for his brother-in-law’s human rights work, which included engaging with Formula One," she said. "For them to now fail to even acknowledge our letter adds insult to injury and their disregard for human rights.”

The Bahraini embassy in London did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

The UK NCP will now decide whether to investigate the complaint's allegations. The Bahrain F1 Grand Prix is scheduled to be held in March 2023.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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