In response to being asked whether racing in Baku was a moral issue, Bernie Ecclestone asked the question, ‘What are human rights?’. Human rights watch organisations have raised concerns over the Azerbaijani race, citing an escalation in violations by the government. Thankfully, helpful organisations have put a handy list of human rights on the internet.
Ecclestone raises the point that no country is perfect. Fair enough. Everyone falls down on a few points. The United States, for example, continues to imprison people without trials on grounds of suspected terrorism. However, it should raise question marks about a place when the results for a search like ‘human rights [country name]’ yields more about violations than affirmations. (Incidentally, Googling ‘human rights violations Azerbaijan’ yields 447,000 results in 0.58 seconds – not the best country in the world, then.)
Ecclestone then goes on to state that it is the Azerbaijani government’s right to imprison journalists for criticising them. The United Nations would disagree with Ecclestone on that point, but in this post-modern world truth is relative and the opinions people in positions of power are above question, regardless of whether those opinions are based on research data, accepted convention, or a similarly solid foundation.
According to information on the Human Rights Watch website, the basic rights most flagrantly violated in Azerbaijan include:
Article 2 – Freedom from discrimination
Article 3 – Right to life, liberty, and security
Article 5 – Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
Article 9 – Freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile
Article 10 – Right to a fair public hearing
Article 11 – Right to be considered innocent until proven guilty
Article 12 – Freedom from interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence
Article 13 – Right to free movement in and out of the country
Article 19 – Freedom of opinion and information
Article 23 – Right to desirable work and to join trade unions
Article 29 – Community duties essential to free and full development
Article 30 – Freedom from state or personal interference in the above rights
Some of the above-mentioned rights are violated in batches. For example, two anti-government supporters were recently arrested on bogus drug charges. They were then tortured until they admitted guilt on the trumped-up charges while the police planted heroin in their houses as ‘evidence’. These are not the actions of a free and fair government.
Human Rights Watch have called for Ecclestone to ask to meet with imprisoned journalists and activists. Their – rather optimistic – hope that Ecclestone cares about reforming the country enough to shed light on the human rights abuses would bring greater international pressure. The activists are more likely to have luck with journalists who do non-racing documentary work in their spare time, although these people are unlikely to have the political sway to request audiences with prisoners.
To be fair to Azerbaijan, they have released at least sixteen political prisoners ahead of the race. Many more journalists and activists remain incarcerated, and Sports for Rights have called on Formula One Management to put pressure for these people to be released.
Unfortunately, people like Sports for Rights and Human Rights Watch assume that everyone wants a different status quo in countries like Azerbaijan. Ecclestone and FOM have a long history of ignoring inconvenient truths about the state of nations in which F1 holds races – just think back to the Bahrain race during the Arab Spring.
It is my sincere hope that some of the journalists covering the Baku race are willing to sacrifice their visa for next year’s event in order to cover some of the non-racing events in the country. They all know, though, that the price for speaking out is not returning to Azerbaijan as long as the current regime are in power, or, if they are caught getting incriminating footage or release the stories while they are still in the country, incarceration for at least a decade in an Azerbaijani prison.
As for me, I will be enjoying twenty four solid hours of Le Mans coverage (and taking my diabetic dad a hand-made, low carb cake, because it’s Father’s Day) instead of watching F1. Perhaps because he knew pro-human rights hippies like me would boycott the Baku race, Bernie scheduled it to coincide with with motorsport’s biggest calendar event. At least that way, he can claim the drop in viewership is because of the clash with Le Mans, rather than because F1 fans have a conscience, and therefore a dissenting opinion, about his dealings with oppressive regimes.