Hamilton: Why are women still in prison for driving?

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Seven-times Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton expressed concern about human rights in Saudi Arabia, admitting he did not feel comfortable having to race in the kingdom and asked why women were still in prison for the ‘crime!”  of driving a car.

Saudi Arabia is hosting a grand prix for the first time this weekend, a night race around a street circuit in Jeddah, with rights groups accusing the country of using the event to deflect scrutiny from abuses.

Hamilton, the sport’s most successful driver, told reporters ahead of the race weekend that he had received a warm welcome on arrival but felt “duty-bound” to speak out.

The Briton, who has used his platform to campaign for diversity and equality, said the Liberty Media-owned sport needed to do more.

He wore a Progress Pride helmet at last month´s Qatar Grand Prix to draw attention to LGBTQ+ intolerance and will wear it again this weekend in Saudi, where gay sex is also a criminal offence.

“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say that I do but it’s not my choice to be here. The sport has taken the choice to be here,” said the 36-year-old.

Hamilton said the law relating to the LGBTQ+ community was “pretty terrifying”

“As I said at the last race that I felt the sport and we are duty-bound to ensure we try and raise awareness for certain issues, especially human rights in the countries we are going to,” he said on Thursday.

“With the utmost respect for everyone that is here, I have had a warm respect from everyone here on the ground. I can’t pretend to ever be the most knowledgeable or deepest understanding of anyone who has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by so many rules and regimes.

He added: “In the last race you saw the helmet that I wore and I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue and is a law.

“If anyone wants to take the time to read what the law is for the LGBT+ community, it is pretty terrifying and there are changes that need to be made, for example women’s rights and being able to drive in 2018 – it is how they are policed.

“Are they really in effect? Why are some of the women still in prison from driving many, many years ago? There is a lot of change that needs to happen and our sport needs to do more,” insisted Hamilton.

A list of Saudi women imprisoned or marginalised for fighting for the right to drive was published by The Guardian earlier this year here>>>

Domenicali says Saudi Arabia have taken the route of a change

F1 chief Stefano Domenicali has argued that sport can help bring change, even if it will take time for that to happen.

“As soon as these countries choose to be under the spotlight F1 is bringing, there is no excuse. They have taken the route of a change,” the Italian told Sky Sports television recently.

F1 launched a “We Race As One” campaign last year to help highlight and tackle issues such as racism and inequality.

Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel said it was clear “some things are not going the way they should” but change took time and he preferred to highlight positive examples of progress.

“For sure there are shortcomings and they have to be addressed but I still feel the more powerful tool is the positive weapon,” he said. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Additional reporting by Agnes Carlier)