FORMULA ONE arrives in Saudi Arabia at a time when the authorities are carrying out mass executions. There have already been five this year, most recently this Tuesday, as teams arrived for the Grand Prix.

Saudi Arabia has executed 43 people this year and is on track to kill more than ever before in a calendar year. The worst year to date was 2022, when at least 196 executions were carried out, including 81 in a single day on 12 March, a fortnight before that year’s Saudi Grand Prix.

The annual rate of executions has doubled since King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman came to power in 2015. From 2010-2014 there was an average of 70.8 executions per year. From 2015-2023, the average was 139.7.

Lewis Hamilton has repeatedly criticised Formula One for failing to demand meaningful human rights reforms in the countries where it races. In 2022, he spoke of the “mind-blowing” letter he had received from the family of Abdullah al-Howaiti, who was arrested and tortured in Saudi Arabia aged 14 and sentenced to death for a crime he cannot have committed.

Abdullah al-Howaiti remains on death row at imminent risk of execution. Two other child defendants tortured into making false confessions could also be executed at any time: Abdullah al-Derazi and Youssef al-Manasif. Both were convicted of terrorism offences after allegedly attending protests. In practice, ‘terrorism’ charges in Saudi Arabia can mean standing up for basic human rights or simply disagreeing publicly with Mohammed bin Salman.

Yasser al-Khayat, whose brother was among the 81 men executed on 12 March, 2022, said: “Two years ago, my brother was executed alongside 80 other men because he dared to stand up for basic human rights in Saudi Arabia. Two weeks later, Formula One raced in the Kingdom as if nothing had happened. This regime is killing record numbers of people every year but it looks like drivers, teams and sponsors don’t care. I wish to tell them that by helping the authorities create a false image of Saudi Arabia, they strengthen the executioner’s hand. They could demand an end to the bloodshed but are too cowardly to do so.”

Jeed Basyouni, head of Reprieve’s MENA team, said: “Formula One helps launder the blood-soaked reputation of Mohammed bin Salman’s regime while telling itself comforting lies about driving progress on human rights. If a few more drivers had the courage and principles of Lewis Hamilton, the sport could be a force for good, by refusing to race in countries that sentence child defendants to death and execute people for attending protests.”

Taha al-Hajj, legal director at the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said: “Each year, Saudi Arabia’s execution crisis deepens a little more, as the authorities understand that they can kill with impunity and continue doing business with the world’s top brands. The consequences are severe for the people of Saudi Arabia and their blood stains every corporate sponsor of Formula One.”

* Source: Reprieve