FORMULA One has been urged to take a public stand against Azerbaijan’s human rights record ahead of the inaugural race in the country.

Baku will play host to the European Grand Prix next Sunday, but Sport For Rights – an organisation established to draw attention to Azerbaijan’s human rights record – has urged Bernie Ecclestone to speak out against the country’s regime, and call for the release of political prisoners.

Sport For Rights also want pop stars Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias and Chris Brown, who are all due to perform over the grand prix weekend in Azerbaijan, to cancel their performances. While Ecclestone, the sport’s 85-year-old chief executive, is yet to issue a public response to the organisation’s open letter, or meet with them in person, two high-ranking Formula One officials held talks with the campaign group on Monday. Further discussions are planned.

Speaking at a lecture described as “A Full Throttle Attack on Human Rights”, Rebecca Vincent, co-ordinator of the Sport For Rights campaign, said: “We have called on Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone to publicly speak out on human rights issues in Azerbaijan and to call for the release of political prisoners. We wrote him an open letter and there has not been a public response yet.

“I will note that yesterday we did have a meeting with some Formula One officials, which we viewed as positive, by their decision to engage with us. They responded to our letter, and we met and we agreed to keep in touch on these issues. So far it is positive, but we still call on them to take a public stand on these issues.”

Vincent added: “We have also called on some celebrities who are performing at the grand prix to cancel their performances.

“We believe that these performances are really only used for propaganda circumstances for the regime, and in that way they will enable repression rather than promoting freedom. None of these have responded.”

Sport For Rights have accused President Ilham Aliyev’s regime of wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, freezing financial public resources, and restrictive legislation.

They also claim that media outlets critical of Aliyev’s government have been harassed and intimidated and subsequently forced to close, while four journalists have also died in custody since 2005, according to the campaign group.

Formula One has come under fire in recent years for staging races in Bahrain. The 2011 edition of the grand prix was cancelled following a wave of protests.

Ecclestone has been reluctant to be drawn on human rights issues affecting his sport.

“Formula One should be commended for developing their human rights policy,” Phil Bloomer, executive director at Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, added at the London conference.

“It is a decent, modest policy on human rights which follows quite religiously the United Nations’ guiding principles of business and human rights.

“But we all know too many cases where human rights policies have been developed and not owned by the leadership and I think Bernie Ecclestone’s comments demonstrate that.

“It then falls into that awful state of becoming a public image exercise rather than what I know some people in Formula One would like, which is to improve that image.”