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Updated January 21st, 2022 at 13:26 IST

HRW raises concerns over China's veiled threats to athletes ahead of Winter Olympics

Days ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, China has issued a blunt warning to national and foreign athletes against any criticism of Chinese authorities

Reported by: Dipaneeta Das
Edited by: Dipaneeta Das
Rights group
IMAGE: AP | Image:self
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Ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, China has issued a stern warning to national and foreign athletes against any criticism of Chinese authorities or speaking out on mass atrocities and human rights issues. As per reports, Olympians will face an "Orwellian surveillance state" and cannot expect the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to protect them in case dangers arise from advocating civil rights on a public platform, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Thursday. The right group also raised concerns over Beijing's attempt to "sportswash" the country's reputation.

The report comes days after Beijing 2022 International Relations Department Deputy Director-General, Yang Shu, said in a statement that "any behaviour or speeches that are against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations are also subject to certain punishment." The stringent warning comes as Beijing is gearing up to inaugurate the Winter Olympics from February 4. Notably, the Games will open against a backdrop of China launching a severe crackdown on minority communities like Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans and other Turkic communities, which "reflect Xi Jinping's assault on human rights since coming to power," HRW said.

HRW raises concern as Beijing muzzles athletes

"Chinese laws are very vague on crimes that can be used to prosecute people's free speech," Yaqui Wang, a researcher with HRW told The Guardian speaking on the Chinese approach to preventing athletes from speaking on human rights issues. Referring to the disappearance of Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai, Wang added, "it was a good indicator of what could possibly happen" if athletes spoke out against the government.

"People can be charged with picking quarrels, provoking trouble ...there are all kinds of crimes that can be leveled at peaceful, critical comments. And in China the conviction rate is 99%," she added.

It is pertinent to mention that tennis player Peng Shuai had accused the former vice-premier Zhang Gaolu of the CCP of sexual assault in a public post (that was later deleted). Ever since the post went out in November, Shuai has been missing from public domains. Nevertheless, the World Tennis Association (WTA) reportedly received an e-mail from Shuai in December, revoking all accusations against the Chinese official. However, WTA chairman Steve Simon had said he had a hard time believing that the tennis player "actually wrote or believes" the literature in mail.

HRW has also warned all athletes, travelling to participate in the Games, of high-tech surveillance systems the Chinese have installed to track dissidents.

"One of the features of 2008 Games was the authorities' use of what they considered high technology, but that pales in comparison to Orwellian surveillance state. The authorities use across the country now where tools like AI and predictive policing, Big Data databases, extensive surveillance of social media platforms, keep people from engaging in certain kinds of conversations. Anyone who’s travelling to the country for these games – journalists, athletes, coaches – needs to be aware that this kind of surveillance could affect them," said Dr. Sophie Richardson, China director of HRW. 

Meanwhile, several governments across the world have decided to withhold sending a top-level delegation to Beijing as a diplomatic boycott of the Games. Countries like Canada, UK and Australia have joined the US suit to revoke representation at the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing human rights violations in northern provinces.

(Image: AP)

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Published January 21st, 2022 at 13:26 IST

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