Beijing must not win 2022 Winter Olympics bid, say human rights activists

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Originally published by The Guardian on July 29, 2015


Xinhua, China’s official news agency, this week described its bid, which is widely seen as the favourite, as the “safe choice”.

“Beijing is one of the world’s top destinations for tourism and business with world-class hotels and services,” it said in an editorial.

Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, Xu Jicheng, an official from Beijing’s bid team, said authorities were battling to clear the city’s smog-choked skies.“Technically the pollution has been reduced and controlled. We have seven more years to go and it will be sunshine and white cloud,” Xu said.

However, activists say the deteriorating human rights situation under president Xi Jinping means the IOC should snub China’s bid for the event, to be held in February and March 2022.

Xi, who became president in March 2013, has overseen a major crackdown on Communist party opponents, including activists, academics and journalists. At least 1,800 human rights activists have been “arbitrarily detained” since Xi took office, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders group claimed on Wednesday.

These include more than 260 people who have been detained or questioned in recent weeks as part an apparently politically motivated crackdown on human rights lawyers.

In an open letter signed by dozens of high-profile dissidents including blind campaigner Chen Guangcheng, exiled writer Liao Yiwu and civil rights lawyer Teng Biao, activists claimed China was facing “a human rights crisis with a scale of violations that is unprecedented since 2008”.

“As we write this letter, the Chinese government is carrying out an unparalleled attack on civil society,” it said, pointing to the recent wave of detentions against lawyers.

Handing Beijing the 2022 Games would “endorse a government that blatantly violates human rights” and be “a contradiction of the Olympics’ goal of ‘promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”.

Gu Yi, a student at the University of Georgia who helped write the letter, said: “The world should deny Beijing a second chance.

If the IOC awards Beijing a second Olympics, it is saying that the IOC and the world is not concerned about the recent crackdowns and that these human rights abuses can be tolerated. This would be a very bad signal.”

Du Yanlin, a Beijing activist who was recently detained for taking a selfie in Tiananmen Square to commemorate the 1989 military crackdown, said: “If the IOC wants to champion the purity of sport, it should not allow Beijing to host the Olympics.”

Du said a victory on Friday would send Beijing the message that its abuses would be tolerated, “no matter how rampant”.

A Tibetan Buddhist monk who fled China in 2014 and now lives in Switzerland in exile has also questioned China’s bid. In a letter to the IOC president, Thomas Bach, Golog Jigme highlighted Beijing’s oppressive policies in Tibet and the “awful” situation faced by Tibetans. “How can the IOC award such prestige to China?” the monk told the New York Times.

Beijing’s 2008 Olympics had led to forced evictions and the expansion of China’s “abusive, unaccountable domestic security forces”, Human Rights Watch claimed last week.

“We’ve already seen one Olympic Games fuel human rights abuses in China, and the environment in 2015 is significantly worse than it was in 2008,” Minky Worden, the group’s global initiatives director, warned.

Beijing has denied claims that the recent detentions of human rights lawyers are part of a political campaign. “Western media who support human rights and justice should take better care to ensure they stand on the right side of the line,” Xinhua warned in a recent editorial.

Beijing’s resource-rich rival Kazakhstan has also faced criticism over its human rights record in the lead-up to Friday’s vote. Its government “heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion, and torture remains a serious problem,” according to Human Rights Watch.

A recent report by the rights group said Kazakhstan’s LGBT community was “living in fear” as a result of pervasive homophobic attitudes and a lack of government protection.

In 2012, opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov was jailed for seven-and-a-half years on charges of “inciting social discord” after speaking out against the government.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has faced condemnation for advising the rulers of Central Asia’s largest country on good governance.

Additional reporting by Luna Lin

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