Activists urge IOC to postpone 'genocide' Beijing Games

Athens (AFP) –


Activists on Tuesday called for the postponement of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics as China prepared to receive the Olympic flame, a day after a protest disrupted the lighting ceremony in Olympia.

"This is sports-washing. There are no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide," Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the World Uighur Congress, told a news conference in the Greek capital.

"For sure there will be protests (in China) by Uighurs, Tibetans," said Arkin, who said she has had no contact with her family since 2017.

Lit on Monday in Ancient Olympia, the cradle of the ancient Games, the flame will be handed over to the delegation from Beijing 2022 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the Olympics were revived in 1896, and will be flown to China.

During the ceremony in Olympia on Monday, the activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said "no genocide" at the Games. A similar protest was held at the Acropolis in Athens.

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it "peacefully liberated" the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.

But human rights campaigners and exiles say the Chinese central government practises religious repression, torture, forced sterilisation and cultural erosion through forced re-education.

Campaigners believe that at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

"Who is going to guarantee that none of my relatives are actually now working in forced labour factories producing clothing and uniforms for the Olympic Games," Arkin said Tuesday.

"Can anyone tell me where my relatives are? I don't think so."

The activists on Tuesday said Hong Kong residents, Tibetans and Uighurs faced "Orwellian" surveillance in China, which they said was "emboldened" after hosting the Summer Games in 2008.

The IOC is legitimising "one of the worst violations of human rights in the entire 21st century" and defiling the spirit of the Games, said Pema Doma, campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet.

"These Games cannot go ahead as planned, they must be postponed," she said.

IOC chairman Thomas Bach has batted off talk of a potential boycott, claiming the International Olympic Committee's political neutrality and saying it was up to governments to live up to their responsibilities.

A victim of the 1980 Moscow Games boycott, the former fencer has said such moves only punish athletes, and insists the IOC was addressing the rights issue "within our remit".

Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022.

Arkin said the campaign "to train light on all the different abuses" was stronger than that of 2008, bringing together "Uighur communities, Hong Kong communities, Tibetan, Southern Mongolian, Chinese and Taiwanese communities".

"No one can stop us. Not the IOC, not governments, not sponsors, not athletes. We will not stop," she said.