With Saudi Arabia set to host its first ever Formula One Grand Prix race this weekend, Lewis Hamilton has spoken out against Riyadh's human rights record. The 36-year-old admitted that he does not "feel comfortable" racing in the country as campaigners urge the seven-time world champion to highlight the plight of critics incarcerated within the kingdom.
"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do," Hamilton admitted yesterday during a press conference. "But it's not my choice to be here. The sport has taken the choice to be here."
Hamilton spoke about what he called "terrifying" laws in the kingdom which require changing and mentioned women being granted the right to drive in 2018. "Some of the women are still in prison from driving many, many years ago," Hamilton added.
"So there's a lot of changes that need to happen and I think our sport needs to do more."
Hamilton himself has said that Formula One is "duty bound" to raise human rights issues in the Gulf. "As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues," said Hamilton last month. "These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue."
The sister of Hussein Abu Al-Kheir, who claims her brother was arrested on false charges and tortured in Saudi Arabia, has written to Hamilton appealing for him to help in his release.
Zeinab Abu Al-Kheir told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that Hamilton's declaration two weeks ago in Qatar that F1 is "duty bound" to raise awareness on human rights made her think that he might be able to save her brother.
"Dear Lewis, I'm writing to you in the hope that can save my brother's life," Abu Al-Kheir wrote last week to Hamilton from her home in Canada in a letter shared exclusively with the AP. "Just saying his name while you are in Saudi Arabia may be enough."
Hamilton was asked about the letter during yesterday's press conference. Though he spoke about Riyadh's poor human rights record in general he said he was not aware of any letter.
In the letter Abu Al-Kheir says her brother, a 56-year-old Jordanian, was put on death row five years ago and tortured by Saudi officials.