As Olympians from around the world prepare to travel to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, they have received an eerie warning from Chinese officials, indicating that if they speak out in a manner critical of China, they may be subject to punishment under Chinese law.
In what is a clear attempt to silence criticism during the Olympics, an official with the Beijing Olympics Committee informed the athletes that, “expression in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected. Any behavior or speeches that are against the Olympic spirit, and especially against Chinese laws and regulations are also subjected to certain punishment.” This warning to athletes brought to life an earlier reported warning from Human Rights Watch, which cautioned athletes that speaking out against China’s abuses may threaten their safety.
The warning comes in spite of an International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) ban on activism during the competition, as the Beijing Olympics has generated a significant amount of political activity in response to the sweeping human rights violations occurring within China. As this will be a globally watched event, China is undergoing heavy scrutiny as activists have continued to shed a light on the alleged Chinese genocide of Uyghur Muslims taking place in China’s western Xinjiang province. Regardless, China is working hard to control the narrative.
From outside China, activists and national governments have attempted to pressure China to put an end to its abuse of religious and ethnic minorities by enacting diplomatic boycotts of the games. Unfortunately, this had little effect as multinational corporations continue to maintain their advertising budgets and generate significant support for the games amidst the growing human rights crisis.
While the Olympics are meant to represent a platform for good natured competitiveness, it is overshadowed this year by the growing persecution within China’s sphere of influence – religious minorities are regularly harassed, ethnic minorities are being subjected to a systematic campaign of internment, and many of China’s political dissenters are constantly weary of being arrested. This new reality announced today, where athletes must be watchful of their host country, is an absolute travesty – for both the Olympics, and for the state of human rights in China.