Rights groups urge countries to pressure China on human rights before Olympics

The world cannot let China use the games as a ‘sportswashing opportunity,’ says Amnesty International.
By Gulchehra Hoja
Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest calling for a boycott of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, in front of the Olympic House, the headquarters of Turkey's National Olympic Committee, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2021.

Rights groups and a former United Nations official issued a final plea for the international community to use the approaching Winter Olympics in Beijing to pressure China to improve its human rights record, amid widespread persecution of Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers and other groups.

Thousands of athletes, officials and diplomats from around the world will attend the games, which run Feb. 4-20.

London-based Amnesty International said Friday that countries sending delegations to Beijing must use the Olympics, as well as the Paralympics on March 4-13, to demand that China treat minority groups better.

“The Beijing Winter Olympics must not be allowed to pass as a mere sportswashing opportunity for the Chinese authorities, and the international community must not become complicit in a propaganda exercise,” Alkan Akad, Amnesty’s China researcher, said in a statement.

“The games should not be used as a distraction from China’s appalling human rights record. On the contrary, they should be an opportunity to press China to address these issues,” Akad said.

The Chinese government had pledged to respect media freedom, labor rights and peaceful demonstrations during the Olympics. But there is no evidence that it has followed through, Amnesty said.

“The right to freedom of expression is systematically violated in China. That’s why it’s vital that the [International Olympic Committee] and the various National Olympic Committees at the Games adequately respect athletes’ and sports officials’ wishes to speak out about human rights, including on issues deemed ‘sensitive’ by the authorities,” Akad said.

His group called for the release of five detained Chinese activists: Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, labor rights activist Li Qiaochu, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and Tibetan blogger Rinchen Tsultrim.

“If the Chinese government wants to use the Olympics as a showcase for the country, it should start by releasing all those who have been prosecuted or detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights,” Akad said.

A coalition of more than 250 civil society groups representing Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Chinese, Southern Mongolians, Taiwanese and other communities sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, asking him not to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The U.N., the United States, and the legislatures of several Western countries have declared that China’s systematic repression of the 12 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities who live in Xinjiang constitutes genocide and crimes and humanity.

“It’s not only shocking that the secretary-general is willing to attend Beijing 2022 when there is a genocide being carried out against Uyghurs and other Muslims, but also incompatible with the U.N.’s core principles,” Zumretay Arkin, program and advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement.

“His appearance at the Winter Olympics will not only be a kick in the teeth for all human rights defenders living under China’s rule but will undermine the highly respected fora of the United Nations,” she said.

Several countries, including the U.S., have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics.

Kelley Currie, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and the U.S. representative at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, told RFA that corporate sponsors of the Olympic Games and the IOC have made an exception for China in not pressing the country to address rights issues.

“They talk about women’s rights and gender issues and other human rights issues,” she said. “They have all of these principles that are on their website, but when it comes to China it’s just they have an exception for China. And it’s the same with these companies.”

“It’s even more disturbing that they are being so deferential and so quiet when it comes to China and not saying anything, and so I think that they’re pretending like they have no responsibility,” Currie said. “They have a responsibility.”

Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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