Beijing Winter Olympics must not be allowed to ‘sportwash’ human rights abuses, says charity

The Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics must not be a ‘sportswashing’ opportunity for China allowing it to obscure its appalling human rights record, Amnesty International said today, ahead of next month’s Games.

The Winter Olympics, which begin on 4 February, are taking place at a time of global alarm over the human rights situation in China – including the mass persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a draconian clampdown on freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and the apparent silencing of individuals such as the tennis player Peng Shuai.

Amnesty is warning that the human rights situation in China has markedly deteriorated since the country hosted the 2008 Olympics.

In the run-up to the Games, Amnesty has launched a ‘Free the Five’ campaign on behalf of five peaceful activists currently detained in China. The five are:

Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, sentenced to life in prison for suggesting constructive approaches to overcome unequal treatment of ethnic groups in China.

Human rights defender Li Qiaochu, detained for reporting torture committed by the Chinese authorities.

Lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared in 2017, shortly after publishing his memoirs of the years he was detained and tortured by the Chinese authorities.

And Tibetan monk Rinchen Tsultrim, sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for expressing his political views online.

Alkan Akad, Amnesty International’s China Researcher, said: “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.

“The world must heed the lessons of the Beijing 2008 Games, when Chinese government promises of human rights improvements never materialised.

“Amid the severe restrictions in place at Beijing 2022, the IOC must do better at keeping its promise to protect athletes’ right to voice their opinions – and above all to ensure it is not complicit in any violations of athletes’ rights.

“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.”

In December, the UK announced diplomatic officials would not attend the Winter Olympics citing human rights concerns.