With the 2022 Winter Olympics well underway in Beijing, a coalition of activists from around the world is pledging to maintain pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Chinese government throughout the two weeks of the competition, which they have dubbed the genocide”. ”
Organizers, many of them women in their early 20s and 30s, have launched a series of events that will run daily until the end of the Games on February 20. “During the month of February, we will continue our campaign against Beijing. 2022, shining a spotlight on gross human rights abuses in China,” Pema Doma, director of Student Free Tibet Campaigns, told The Daily Beast. “Together, we will continue to challenge Chinese propaganda in Beijing 2022.”
One of their main programs is the #IWillNotWatch campaign, heavily promoted on social media to discourage viewers around the world from watching the Olympics “and to counter Beijing’s propaganda broadcast,” said Zumretay Arkin, head of the Olympics. program and advocacy for the World Uyghur Congress in Munich. told The Daily Beast.
On February 4, as Beijing aired its glitzy opening ceremony, the coalition live-streamed Beijing 2022: The Alternative Opening Ceremony, where several young Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kongers came together to highlight human rights abuses of humans in China.
NBC’s broadcast of the opening ceremony drew just 14 million viewers, making it one of the least-viewed opening ceremonies in Olympics history, according to NBC Sports statistics. This marked a steep drop of around 43% from the 23.8 million viewers who watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in 2018.
The day before the ceremony, activists intensified their pressure with a series of demonstrations in 65 cities around the world to protest what they called “the IOC’s failure to hold China accountable for its serious and aggravated human rights violations. of man”.
During a protest in San Francisco, a Tibetan monk in a brown robe marched at the front of the march holding a portrait of the Dalai Lama as he led about 100 marchers south through the Golden Gate Bridge to the Chinese Consulate in downtown San Francisco. Behind him, several Uighurs waved the flag of the East Turkestan independence movement, which is unofficially used by activists to represent China’s Xinjiang province. Others carried signs that read “No Rights, No Games” and “No More Shame Games.” Another showed a skier standing in front of an army tank, a reference to the iconic photo of the Tank Man, a Chinese citizen who used his body to stop a column of tanks rolling down a Beijing street in 1989 during a anti-democracy crackdown.
“The IOC is clear about what is happening in China. But it doesn’t matter.”
As the March made its way through the streets of San Francisco, passers-by stopped to take photos and cheer the protesters. Dozens of drivers honked their horns and leaned out of their cars to shout their support.
When China won the Summer Olympics in 2008, human rights activists expressed concern about the country’s dismal human rights record. In response, China and the IOC argued that the Games would actually improve human rights and the rule of law in China.
Activists say the opposite has happened. China, encouraged by the legitimacy conferred on it by its successful hosting of the 2008 Games, has intensified its repression of human rights.
Since 2008, around 160 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest China’s increasingly abusive policies in Tibet, which Freedom House has ranked as the least free place in the world, tied with Syria. In Xinjiang, as many as a million Uyghurs, a Turkish-speaking Muslim people, have been thrown into brutal prison camps, which the Chinese call “re-education schools”. Hong Kong has also faced a harsh crackdown on democracy, with prominent politicians, activists and journalists arrested and civic organizations closed.
“The Chinese government has felt emboldened since 2008,” Chemi Lhamo, a 25-year-old Tibetan-Canadian activist, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “He got the message from the international community that China’s abuses were okay, that the world will turn a blind eye to this.”
This time around, no one is predicting that the Olympics will democratize the country. Presenting authoritarian one-party rule as an alternative to Western-style democracy, China has emerged as an economic, technological and military powerhouse. Chinese leader Xi Jinping still wants to be legitimized by hosting the Olympics, but he sees no need to appease the international community.
“How does it make sense for China to host the Games when they have such a brutal record?” said Lhamo. “Things didn’t get better, they got worse.”
Activists representing disparate peoples in China began strategizing immediately after the Winter Games were awarded to China. In October 2020, a delegation representing 160 human rights groups had a virtual meeting with the IOC in hopes of convincing the body to cancel or move the Winter Olympics. The meeting did not go well, some of those who attended the meeting told The Daily Beast.
“The conversation was tense, and they weren’t very respectful of the activists,” said 21-year-old We The Hongkongers director Frances Hui, who attended the meeting. “Each of us shared our own first-hand and heartfelt experiences. I couldn’t believe it when they told us that the Olympics was just about people all over the world playing sports.
Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer who also attended the meeting, said the IOC responded with the same excuse given in 1936 when Nazi Germany was awarded the Games: the politics and sport must be separated. “The IOC refuses to listen,” he told the Daily Beast. “Human rights are deteriorating and the evidence is growing. The IOC is clear about what is happening in China. But it doesn’t matter. »
Activists decided to call for a full boycott of the Games, which they said would be an uphill battle. An alliance of some 200 groups began writing letters, organizing petitions and organizing protests around the world. Activists representing Tibetan, Uyghur, Hong Kong and Chinese activists have urged international corporations to stop sponsoring the Winter Olympics, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Big global companies feared offending Beijing and risking one of the biggest markets in the world.
Allianz, the insurance and financial services giant, one of 13 international sponsors, is believed to be the only sponsor to have agreed to meet with the activists. Company officials politely listened to the speakers and promised to discuss the matter internally. But there was no other response, even after activists staged a sit-in and chained themselves to the door of the Allianz building in Berlin last month.
Some of the protests leading up to the Games even led to arrests. In October last year, Greek police arrested 18-year-old Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and Hong Kong activist Joey Siu, after the two climbed the scaffolding at the Acropolis, where they waved the Tibetan flag and the flag of the “Hong Kong revolution”. and shouted “Boycott Beijing 2022” and “Free Tibet”. The next day, protesters disrupted the official torch-lighting ceremony at the Temple of Hera in ancient Olympia, where the torch is traditionally lit just before being carried around the world to the site of the Olympics . Protesters unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No Genocide Games”, before Greek police threw them to the ground.
The following month, Lhamo and several other activists carried a fake black coffin bearing the Olympic rings to IOC headquarters. “We held a mock funeral for the IOC because the three values of the Olympic Games – excellence, friendship and respect – are dead; the IOC clearly doesn’t care about them,” Lhamo said. “The only friendship I see is with the Chinese government.”
Days after the fake funeral, protesters camped outside the White House for 57 hours, urging President Joe Biden to take action against the Games. On December 7, Biden announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games, citing human rights abuses, but refrained from banning American athletes from participating. Britain, Australia, Japan and Canada made similar announcements.
Activists called for a diplomatic boycott.
“I see this as a result of our ‘NoBeijing2022’ campaign,” says Siu, one of the activists who was detained in Greece. “We have organized demonstrations all over the world. Activists slept outside the White House. This is the direct result of our collective efforts.
In the months leading up to the opening ceremony, the coalition began reaching out to Olympic athletes to tell them about the human rights situation in China in hopes of convincing some to withdraw from competition, or at least to make a political statement at the Games.
“Athletes should never have been placed in a situation where they have to choose between legitimizing genocide or human rights,” says Hui, the director of We The Hongkongers. “But it’s the reality: Beijing 2022 is not the opportunity promised to Olympic athletes and Thomas Bach and the IOC have failed the athletes by putting them in this situation.”
Anticipating that athletes might make such statements, Beijing issued a threat. “Any behavior or speech contrary to the Olympic spirit, especially Chinese laws and regulations, is also subject to certain penalties,” warned Yang Shu, deputy director of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.
Then, a few days before the opening ceremony, several athletes from different countries announced anonymously that they would boycott the opening ceremony in solidarity with the victims of human rights violations, the Washington Post reported. The athletes said they would only explain their absence after the games to avoid being punished. According to Students for a Free Tibet, some 150 of the 224 athletes on the American team participated in the opening ceremony, while less than half of the Canadian team participated.
Organizers say they are disappointed they did not achieve their goal of boycotting the games, but they remain optimistic. “There have been huge changes since we started this movement,” Hui said. “People are now much more aware of the situation in China. Many people are now aware of the human rights abuses there.
Lhamo says the coalition has no choice but to continue their protests against Beijing 2022. she told the Daily Beast. “It will only get worse.”