LBC: Activist says world to boycott Chinese winter Olympics
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There has been huge controversy surrounding the decision to allow China to host the games, which begin on February 4, most notably the mass persecution of Uyghurs in Xingang. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have noted that the human rights situation in China has got markedly worse since the last time Beijing hosted an Olympics, in 2008. Over the past few years, China has detained more than a million Uyghurs (a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group) in “re-education camps” and has sentenced hundreds of thousands of them to prison terms. Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch told Express.co.uk that athletes attending the games have been put in a “terrible” position.
She said: “They’re being asked to perform their jobs in a terrible environment over which they had no say.
“This is clearly not what a lot of them had in mind.”
Last week, Yang Shu, the deputy director-general of the Beijing 2022 international relations department, said that athletes who engage in behaviour or speech which is against the “Olympic spirit”, will face punishment.
Ms Richardson said that although she believes it would be “foolish” for the Chinese government to detain athletes, the prospect cannot be ruled out as China is a country that acts on certain “impulses” and “law and logic are not often among them”.
She added: “If we thought that by 2018, the Chinese government was going to be arbitrarily detaining a million Uyghurs simply because they’re Uyghurs we would have said no.
“In this line of work you learn not to rule out any possibilities.”
It is unclear what exactly constitutes behaviour that goes against the “Olympic spirit”, however, it is thought to include speaking out against human rights violations.
Ms Richardson claimed this ambiguity is part of China’s approach.
She said: “It is precisely meant to be ambiguous so that people are afraid to speak up and risk punishment.”
Last week, athletes travelling to China were warned against speaking out on human rights violations for their own safety by speakers at a seminar.
Ms Richardson warned that Team GB athletes could face the same treatment as Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who ‘disappeared’ last year after she made sexual assault allegations against a former Chinese vice premier.
Many countries, such as the UK and the US have announced diplomatic boycotts of the games in protest against China’s human right’s violations.
Ms Richardson said that Human Rights Watch is pleased by this as it “helps deny Xi Jinping and his allies the political legitimacy they crave from hosting these games.”
However, she added that governments need to be “incredibly clear and firm and vocal about protecting their athletes’ human rights.”
Amnesty International echoed this statement, adding that athletes should be given “every opportunity to freely speak out about human rights if they wish to do so.”
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Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “The UK’s diplomatic boycott should be the start of a very loud and very public condemnation of China’s human rights record, not the end of it.
“China is hoping for sportswashing gold and it’s vital that every effort is made to counteract that.
“The British Olympic Association should ensure that all Team GB participants are aware of the gravity of the human rights situation in China and that they’re given every opportunity to freely speak out about human rights if they wish to do so.”
Ms Richardson warned that Team GB athletes, should not expect the International Olympic Committee to help them, citing the case of Peng Shuai, whose disappearance the IOC failed to properly investigate.
She added that new standards put in place by the IOC after it gifted the Winter Olympics to Beijing should prevent it from giving the Games to a city whose government is so problematic on human rights in the future.
However, she said: “The IOC is clearly unconstrained by even the most common sense of human decency so who knows what they’ll choose next?”
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