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F1 races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia; AP raises human rights

In Manama, Bahrain, March 17, 2022, Ahmed, 12 years old, holds a drawing he made, appealing to Formula One star Lewis Hamilton to advocate for his father, Mohammed Ramadhan, a former member of Bahrain’s security forces who is facing the death penalty. Ramadhan has said he was arrested for supporting Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising, then allegedly framed in a murder case and beaten with iron bars in order to extract his confession., holds a drawing he made of F1 driver Lewis Hamilton's Formula One car in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, March 17, 2022. Ahead of Sunday's season-opening F1 race in Bahrain, Ahmed proudly held up the drawing of Hamilton's famed No. 44 Mercedes car along with his own words of hope: "Sir Lewis, another F1 where my innocent father is on death row. Please help free him." (AP Photo)

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Jerome Pugmire, AP’s Paris-based auto racing writer, continues to hold Formula One accountable for racing in countries where human rights are routinely trampled. While covering an exceptionally intense and challenging kickoff to the F1 racing season, Pugmire held exclusive interviews with a released torture survivor and the 12-year-old son of a man on death row, and pressured Formula One heavyweights to call out human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Pugmire’s focus on human rights started with groundbreaking reporting in 2020 and 2021 that helped call the attention of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to abuses in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia — and helped free a political prisoner. Hamilton’s attention to the cause has since made him a hero in Bahrain’s prisons, where inmates now draw his race number (44) on their prison shirts and bed sheets.

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Formula One star Lewis Hamilton waves to fans attending the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in Sakhir, Bahrain, March 20, 2022. – AP Photo / Hassan Ammar

Over two pressure-packed weeks opening the 2022 F1 season, Pugmire met with the liberated man’s mother in Bahrain — a prison torture survivor herself — and with the 12-year-old who shared a drawing of Hamilton’s car with the words,“Sir Lewis,another F1 where my innocent father is on death row. Please help free him.” After the emotional,exclusive meetings,Pugmire took their stories back to Hamilton,asking whether F1 should continue to raise awareness of human rights in the countries where it races; Hamilton spoke strongly of using F1’s high profile to advance reform. Pugmire also pressed F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, asking why the sport hasn’t followed through on a promise to advocate for government compensation to the woman who suffered imprisonment and torture after criticizing the annual Bahrain race.

Pugmire’s persistence led Hamilton to tell him,“You sure don’t make it easy for me.” To which Pugmire replied,“That’s because you’re the only one who doesn’t duck questions.” In the private conversation that followed,the two shared experiences of meeting former prisoners,and Hamilton complimented Pugmire on his commitment to the issue. Pugmire also received a phone call from a prisoner who said inmates were whooping with excitement over Hamilton’s public comments supporting them. The man told Pugmire,“You have made our day,thank you.”

In Saudi Arabia for F1 the following week,Pugmire continued his exclusive coverage around human rights,challenging drivers publicly to meet with Saudi authorities on the issue. In addition, he covered mental health in racing — and a Houthi missile strike near the track that nearly derailed the race. All in addition to the day-in, day-out demands of covering the racing as the only AP writer on the scene in both countries.

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