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As F1 roars into Baku, activists tell drivers: help our fight for human rights

Motor racing chief Bernie Ecclestone shrugs off criticism over staging prestige event under a repressive regime

The asphalt has been laid over Baku’s ancient cobbled streets, many residential buildings have been covered with false fronts for the cameras, and bling-built new ones are on proud display. Well away from the limelight of this weekend’s 3.7-mile grand prix circuit through the city are Azerbaijan’s prisons – their populations swollen by activists, journalists, bloggers and opposition figures.

Human rights campaigners working to draw attention to the restrictive regime in the country have appealed to high-profile Formula One fans, celebrities and drivers at today’s inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix to criticise or draw attention to the regime’s human rights record. Formula One’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, British driver Lewis Hamilton and the three music stars scheduled to appear – Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias – have all come under fire for not doing so, and the call has largely been ignored as drivers prepare for what will be one of the fastest street circuits in the world.

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