British politician Andy Slaughter on why he supports an F1 boycott

Below is an uncorrected transcript of British MP Andy Slaughter’s comments at the press conference on the Bahrain Grand Prix at the House of Lords on Tuesday, April 16th. Mr Slaughter MP is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain and he hosted the press conference, along with Lord Avebury.

We are often asked why is a Grand Prix, a Formula One, which is raced all over the world, is of particular significance in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a small country of 1.2million people. It took part in the Arab Spring but the revolution was crushed by foreign intervention through the Saudi invasion dressed up as the Gulf Co-operation Council and the country has effectively been locked down since.

A hundred people have been killed. In the context of a small country this is very significant. All the methods of repression used by the dictatorship are being used in Bahrain including deprivation from freedom of speech and assembly, torture and imprisonment without trial and on trumped up charges. Some of this has been given widespread publicity such as the trial of the doctors who treated protesters.

The grand prix was cancelled  two years ago. It was not cancelled last year. It doesn’t look as if it is going to be cancelled this year but essentially nothing has changed in relation to Bahrain and the statements that come out from the Formula One people. They have been particularly bizarre this year saying that there is nobody demonstrating which is clearly not true. This has been quoted in Daily Telegraph.

The grand prix is of particular importance because it is being used by the regime to normalise the situation. Of course there are other oppressive countries around the world but there is a particular role which the grand prix plays in this small country which is to appear to legitimise to provide an income for the regime and ironically at the same time it is an agent for greater repression because clearly during the week of the grand prix there are protests – usually peaceful protests. The response to this is to lock down the villages and the country in its entirety. This is not a neutral event. This is an event which leads to greater repression in the country where it is being held. Secondly the event is used as a public relations exercise to cover up what is happening there.

The Bahraini regime, unlike other regimes in the Middle East, does pay attention to its international reputation. It employs many public relations agencies. It wishes to maintain good relations with the West. Unfortunately our  government does not have a good record here. It tends to defend rather than condemn the abuses that take place in Bahrain and it continues to sell arms to Bahrain. Delegates went to Bahrain last month with that objective.

It is for those reasons that we believe there is particular significance to the grand prix being held in Bahrain and that is it is totally inappropriate. The All Party Group has written to Mr Ecclestone asking whether they are happy to be associated with Bahrain given the abuses of human rights that are being committed in the country. We have pointed that world brand leading companies pay a great deal of money to be associated with formula one and in the process they are associating themselves with a regime that murders its citizens.

We believe that they  would agree that there is a corporate responsibility that goes wider than their shareholders and that is why we ask them as well as the organisers of formula one to withdraw  support.

British politicians speak out against the Bahrain F1

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain has written to Bernie Ecclestone saying: “We request you cancel the Grand Prix. It is likely to attract as much negative publicity as last year.” A full copy of the letter is available at this link.

The letter was announced at a press conference held in the House of Lords, hosted by the group’s chair Andy Slaughter and Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group:

Formula 1: Driving Over the Rights of the Bahraini People

While Bahrain descends deeper into a political crisis, any remaining principles or values of human rights are being trampled upon by Formula 1 as they prepare to take the sport, yet again, to a country which at present, is a controversial and unsuitable location for any competition.  Two years ago, Bahrainis employed for this leg of the championship were tortured at the circuit. This year’s Grand Prix, scheduled for the 19th to 21st April 2013, will provoke more protests as the people continue to count the victims of the regime’s brutality. Mr Slaughter and Lord Avebury will present the case for cancelling this year’s F1 Championship in Bahrain, which is also under Saudi occupation.  F1 management insisted on holding last year’s Grand Prix and Bahrainis were killed, tortured and detained when they protested. Is a country which at present, is suppressing the human rights of its people and using sheer brute force to intimidate them, a place for sport or competition of any kind?

Ms Katy Clark MP, a member of the APPG for Democracy in Bahrain, spoke at the press conference. Yesterday, she tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for a boycott of the F1:

BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX

That this House calls for a boycott of the forthcoming Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on moral grounds, given the continued human rights abuses committed by the Bahrain government against its citizens as detailed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organisations; believes that if it went ahead, the race would be used by the Bahrain government to present a false image to the world; is concerned that the human rights situation has not improved since the 2012 race; notes that the Bahrain government has failed to implement reforms it pledged to enact in 2011; and further notes that the Bahrain government is keeping prominent human rights defenders and political activists behind bars and continues to suppress, injure and kill peaceful protestors with excessive tear gas and birdshot.

Activists have been encouraged to try and get their MPs to sign the EDM through the “Write To Them” website.