Ethnic minority groups are calling on the International Olympic Committee not to award the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing, saying that China’s rights record actually worsened as a result of the 2008 Summer Games hosted by Beijing.
Beijing, which will go head-to-head with Kazakhstan's capital Almaty in a July 31 vote for the right to host the Winter Games, didn’t just fail to deliver on the promises it made during the earlier bid, but brought in a new round of oppressive policies directly linked to the 2008 Games, activists told RFA.
Ethnic minority groups like Tibetans and the mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking Uyghur group were singled out in particular as Beijing sought to ensure that nobody used the Olympics as a platform to highlight human rights abuses, they said.
“China never keeps its promises to the international community, and for China to host another Olympics would boost [Chinese] nationalism,” Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile group World Uyghur Congress, said in a recent interview.
“Ethnic minorities won’t see the slightest improvement in their basic living conditions, and yet they’ll have to put up with even greater political persecution,” Raxit said.
He said it would be against the Olympic spirit to give the Winter Games to China, given that it has no track record of improvement in its policies towards ethnic minorities.
“China made promises during its bid to host the 2008 Games, but the opposite happened, and the human rights situation got much worse in the aftermath,” Raxit said.
“Far from bringing the changes expected by the international community, [Beijing] brought in a raft of oppressive policies instead,” he said.
London-based Free Tibet, one of the Tibetan groups coordinating an international campaign against awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing, has similar views.
Dorothy Hui, Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for the group, said awarding the Games to China will inevitably mean that already oppressed ethnic minority groups like Tibetans will face greater persecution, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party sends its nationwide “stability maintenance” security regime into overdrive ahead of the event.
“There was a lot of persecution [of ethnic minorities] surrounding the bid for the 2008 Summer Games, because the government was afraid that foreigners would get to hear the voices of ethnic minorities,” Hui told RFA.
“They were afraid the foreigners would find out their true situation.”
She added: “There is likely to be yet another round of persecution [of Tibetans] linked to the current Olympic bid.”
She said widespread and serious pollution is also a major argument against sending the Winter Games to China, a country with no tradition of winter sports and not much of the right kind of snow.
“Every time China hosts the Olympics, there is a lot of economic development, and there is a huge amount of environmental degradation in China now,” Hui said, adding, “China doesn’t have the right conditions to apply to host the Olympics.”
“For a country to host the Games, it should have a strong sporting tradition, but this isn’t very strong in China at all,” she said.
A politicized Games?
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the bid is intended to promote the Olympics in the country and would inspire more than 300 million Chinese to participate in winter sports.
“While Chinese people are heartily looking forward to the holding of a successful and wonderful Winter Olympics, a few people with ulterior motives politicize the Games, which is not in keeping with the Olympic Spirit and will not be popular,” the statement said.
Last week, filmmaker and escaped Tibetan activist Golog Jigme signed a campaign letter to the IOC, urging the IOC not to award the Games to China.
Golog Jigme escaped in May 2014 after being detained for working on a documentary about the treatment of Tibetan nomads under Beijing’s rule.
"What we have seen since 2008 is that there is more repression, Tibetan intellectuals are being forcefully disappeared and the situation in Tibet is getting more urgent every day," he told the Associated Press.
Following a series of region-wide uprisings in March 2008, Tibetans have faced effective martial law, with security forces and government officials resident in monasteries and schools, and tight restrictions on their freedom of movement, even in rural areas.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has governed Tibet since its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupied the Himalayan region in 1950.
China's government is also in the middle of a mass arrest of human rights lawyers and activists, as well as a clampdown on nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and further restrictions on freedom of expression online, sparking objections to the Olympic bid from rights groups across the country.
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, which collates and translates reports from rights groups and informants inside China, said Beijing’s promises on human rights now lack any credibility.
“China’s abysmal human rights conditions … have rapidly degenerated since the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics,” the group said in an open letter to the IOC posted on its website.
“These problems are especially evident in the government’s escalating crackdown on anti-discrimination and labor rights NGOs, on human rights defenders including lawyers, and often in deadly discriminatory suppression in the ethnic Tibetan and Uighur regions,” it said.
“Beijing has no credibility in matters of keeping its promises and playing by the rules, [and] is clearly unfit to stage the Winter Olympics,” CHRD said.
The group said it had documented serious human rights violations directly resulting from preparations for the 2008 Games, citing illegal labor practices, forced evictions, tight control of the media, and the silencing of dissident voices.
'A military parade'
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who served a three-and-a-half-year jail term for "incitement to subversion" after he wrote online articles critical of Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, hit out at official propaganda surrounding the bid that portrays it as an effort on behalf of the Chinese people.
“Is the Olympic Games really an Olympic movement on behalf of the people? In reality, the people who are doing the best job of politicizing the Olympics are the Communist Party themselves,” he said.
“This is more like a red terror, a military parade, and it won’t have any impact on the uptake of sporting activity by the general public,” he said.
CHRD added that police had also restricted the movements of at least 300 activists and petitioners during the 2014 Youth Summer Games in Nanjing, by placing them under house arrest, forcing them to “travel,” holding individuals in “black jails,” and subjecting many to police interrogation.
Reported by He Ping and Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-lam by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.