Rights groups and a former UN official issued a final plea to the international community to use the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing to pressure China to improve its human rights record, amid widespread persecution of Muslim Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and other groups.
Thousands of athletes, officials and diplomats from all over the world will take part in the Games, which will take place from the 4th to the 20th. February.
London-based Amnesty International said on Friday that countries sending delegations to Beijing will use the Olympics, as well as the Paralympic Games on 4-13. March, to demand that China treat minority groups better.
“The Winter Olympics in Beijing must not be allowed to pass as a pure sportswashing opportunity for the Chinese authorities, and the international community must not be 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 shaky human rights record. On the contrary, they should be an opportunity to pressure China to address these issues,” Akad said.
The Chinese government had promised 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 being systematically violated in China. Therefore, it is important that [International Olympic Committee] and the various National Olympic Committees at the Games adequately respect the wishes of athletes and sports officials to comment on human rights, including on issues that the authorities consider “sensitive,” Akad said.
His group called for the release of five detained Chinese activists: Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, civilian 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 the peaceful exercise of their human rights,” Akad said.
A coalition of more than 250 civil society groups representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Hong Kongers, Chinese, Southern Mongols, Taiwanese and other communities sent a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres asking him not to take part in the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The UN, the United States and the legislators of several Western countries have declared that China’s systematic repression of the 12 million Uighurs and other Turkish minorities living in Xinjiang constitutes genocide and crime and humanity.
“It is not only shocking that the Secretary-General is willing to participate in Beijing 2022 when a genocide is carried out against Uighurs and other Muslims, but also incompatible with the UN’s core principles,” Zumretay Arkin, program and advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement.
“His performance at the Winter Olympics will not only be a kick in the teeth for all human rights defenders living under Chinese rule, but will undermine the UN’s highly respected fora,” she said.
Several countries, including the United States, have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics.
Kelley Currie, former US ambassador to Global Women’s Affairs and US representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, told RFA that company sponsors of the Olympic Games and IOC have made an exception for China by not pushing ashore to address rights issues.
“They talk about women’s rights and gender issues and other human rights issues,” she said. “They have all these principles that are on their website, but when it comes to China, it’s just that they have an exception for China. And that’s the same with these companies.”
“It’s even more disturbing that they’re so reverent and so quiet when it comes to China and say nothing, and so I think they’re pretending they have no responsibility,” Currie said. “They have a responsibility.”
Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.