On 7 June, ARTICLE 19 hosted a media briefing on behalf of the Sport for Rights coalition, entitled, ‘A Full-Throttle Attack on Human Rights: What Reporters Covering the Baku F1 European Grand Prix Should Know’; the event also launched our press briefing on the subject.
This event aimed to increase awareness of the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan, particularly among sports journalists covering the Grand Prix which will take place in Baku, 17-19 June.
The event brought together three experts to discuss Formula 1, Azerbaijan and human rights, and was moderated by Katie Morris, Head of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19. During the event, participants called on F1 to publicly condemn the human rights abuses occurring in Azerbaijan.
Emin Huseynov, Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Azerbaijan’s leading media rights organisation, spoke about corruption in Azerbaijan and how this relates to Formula 1, noting that the country’s rampant nepotism means that only Azerbaijan’s elite stand to profit from F1. He also spoke of the experiences of his friends and colleagues at the hands of the Azerbaijani authorities – many of whom have been jailed or attacked, with total impunity.
Rebecca Vincent, Coordinator of the Sport for Rights Campaign, reminded journalists of the importance of international pressure on Azerbaijan, pointing to the recent releases of political prisoners, which appears to be a government response to increasing international condemnation. At the same time, she warned the audience not to take such actions at face value – the human rights situation in Azerbaijan remains as bad as ever, with the authorities continuing to harass, arrest and torture activists, opposition and other critical voices, on a ‘revolving door’ basis.
Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of the Business and Humans Rights Resource Centre, spoke about F1’s measured human rights policy, which could be used to promote and protect human rights in Azerbaijan. However, he raised concerns that past experience, for example in Bahrain, show that F1’s leadership is not committed to a human rights-based stance.
The event has been widely covered in sports media, including in the Daily Mail, which ran a story quoting Rebecca Vincent on letters sent by the Sport for Rights campaign to Pharrell, Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias, who are due to perform at F1: “We have also called on some celebrities who are performing at the Grand Prix to cancel their performances We believe that these performances are really only used for propaganda circumstances for the regime, and in that way they will enable repression rather than promoting freedom. None of these have responded.”
Motor Sport magazine referred to the link between corporate sponsorship and human rights, quoting Phil Bloomer, who emphasized the role corporate sponsors can play in pushing sports bodies on this topic: “Sponsors are running out of patience with bodies, including F1, which are associated with poisoned regimes. Some are tied in to long term deals, but we are seeing them becoming more activist.”
The Guardian picked up on panelists’ calls on F1, citing Rebecca Vincent: “Mr Ecclestone is in a position where he could really do good. This is an opportunity to improve Formula One’s image and to help people in Azerbaijan, rather than just profiting and helping some very corrupt people.”
The full press briefing is available here: