The sister of a man sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia has asked seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton to assist in saving her brother’s life.
In a phone interview, Zeinab Abu Al-Kheir told The Associated Press that Hamilton’s assertion two weeks ago in Qatar that F1 is “duty bound” to raise awareness about human rights makes her believe that he could be able to save her brother, Hussein Abu Al-Kheir. The focus of auto racing shifts to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, when the state holds an F1 race for the first time.
“Dear Lewis, I’m writing to you in the hope that you might save my brother’s life,” Abu Al-Kheir wrote to Hamilton last week from her home in Canada, according to a letter obtained exclusively by the AP. “Simply stating his name while in Saudi Arabia may enough.”
When asked about the letter during his pre-race news conference on Thursday, Hamilton replied, “I’m not sure which letter you’re referring to, so I can’t really comment on that one.”
According to the government’s tally and independent observers, Saudi Arabia, for years one of the world’s most prolific executioners, substantially reduced the number of individuals executed in 2020, following changes that halted executions for non-violent drug-related crimes.
With her younger brother imprisoned approximately 6,000 miles (about 9,700 kilometers) away in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, Abu Al-Kheir expressed hope that Hamilton will provide a link to prominent Saudis.
“A famous man like Hamilton can do something; he can talk to the prince (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman), the minister of interior, or even King Salman,” Abu Al-Kheir explained from her house near Ottowa. “People like Hamilton draw attention to governments all around the world.”
According to Abu Al-letter Kheir’s to Hamilton, which was shared exclusively with the AP by the legal action NGO Reprieve, her brother, a 56-year-old Jordanian, was sentenced to death on drug-related charges five years ago.
She claims the husband and father of eight was unintentionally employed as a drug mule and horribly tortured when he was apprehended. Customs agents checked his car as he drove from Jordan into Saudi Arabia for work as a driver.
In her letter, Abu Al-Kheir stated, “For 12 days, my brother told the authorities the truth: that he knew nothing about the drugs.” “They hung him upside down from the ceiling and beat him on every part of his body.” The agony was so extreme that we could still see the scars a year later. Eventually, he falsely admitted to narcotics trafficking.”
According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia had the third highest number of executions in the world in 2019.
According to Reprieve, in the six years that King Salman and the powerful crown prince have ruled, 392 people have been executed for nonviolent offences.
In 2020, there was a dramatic decrease from the previous year’s all-time high of 184 executions. The decrease was caused in part by a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.
However, Abu Al-Kheir told the Associated Press that she is concerned that her brother may still be executed.
“They claimed to have halted the death (by) beheading for nearly a year.” “But no one knows what they’re doing (inside the prison),” she claimed.
Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have been accused of “sports-washing” their human rights records by presenting a good image through high-profile athletic events.
The World Cup will be held in Qatar next year. After winning in Riyadh two years ago, boxer Anthony Joshua departed Saudi Arabia roughly $70 million richer. After purchasing Newcastle United in the English Premier League in October, Saudi Arabia came under criticism.
Human Rights Watch launched a campaign late last year to combat what it calls the Saudi government’s drive to spend billions of dollars hosting major events as “a purposeful tactic to detract from the country’s reputation as an ubiquitous human rights offender.”
Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef, stated that flashy events should not take precedence over human rights.
“The Saudi authorities have invested considerably in public relations stunts to rebrand their image,” Morayef stated in a news release on Thursday. “The Saudi rulers must recognize that the best public relations come from protecting human rights.”
The Associated Press requested clarity on the death penalty and human rights in an email to government officials.
Meanwhile, Abu Al-Kheir wrote to King Salman.
“I tried everything to help my brother, to save his life,” she told The Associated Press. “Seeing his children and wife constantly gives him optimism.”
Hamilton has been an outspoken advocate for human rights.
In July, he and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel spoke out against the Hungarian government’s proposed referendum on LGBT rights.
In Qatar, Hamilton wore a rainbow on his Mercedes helmet in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Nicki Minaj canceled a show in Saudi Arabia two years ago to advocate for women’s and gay rights.
Same-sex partnerships are illegal in Saudi Arabia and can result in flogging or death sentences. Discrimination and persecution are frequent, yet individuals are rarely penalized.
Hamilton addressed the problem during a press conference on Thursday.
“It’s quite alarming if everyone takes the time to go and study what the law is for the LGBTQ + community,” Hamilton added.
“Do I feel at ease (racing) here?” I’ll say yes. “But it’s not my choice to be here; the sport has chosen to be here,” Hamilton explained. “A lot of change is required, and I believe our sport should do more.”