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Human rights activists call for Olympic boycotts

The Winter Games begin Friday in Beijing


Students protest the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games outside the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan. 14. Associated Press/Photo by Tatan Syuflana

Human rights activists call for Olympic boycotts

In the face of human rights violations committed by the Chinese government, activists and government officials around the world are calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which officially open Friday in Beijing.

For activist Ilshat Kokbore, the boycotts are deeply personal. He belongs to China’s Uyghur minority, which the Chinese Communist Party has targeted for imprisonment, forced sterilization, gang rapes, and torture. Early last year, the U.S. State Department labeled the persecution as genocide.

Kokbore fled China in 2003 and arrived in the United States in 2006. Some of his family members in China have been killed and others imprisoned because of his activism on behalf of persecuted Uyghurs, he said.

In protest of China’s human rights violations, the United States and allies such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom announced a diplomatic boycott of this year’s Games. The countries are sending athletes but not government representatives to the Olympics. Kokbore says that’s not enough, and says the U.S. government and International Olympic Committee are playing into the Chinese government’s hands. The Uyghur American Association joined several other activist groups in a protest against the Beijing Games on Thursday on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

Human rights advocates are also urging fans not to watch coverage of the Olympics on NBC and athletes not to attend the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, which usually showcase the host country’s history, culture, and achievements—and political propaganda.

On social media, some Olympic fans have answered the call and promised not to watch the Games, announcing their decisions with the hashtags #notwatching and #NoBeijing2022.

“This is not the strongest gesture, but it’s better than nothing,” Washington Post columnist Charles Lane wrote. He criticized NBC and corporations that sponsor the Olympics for collaborating with the Chinese regime. Viewership of the Olympics was already spiraling downward before this year. The average number of nightly viewers of last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo declined by 40 percent from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, NPR reported.

A website titled #NoBeijing2022 published an open letter calling on European Union leaders to boycott. In addition to the Uyghur genocide, the letter calls attention to evidence revealing about 1 million Tibetan children are being forced to attend boarding schools, isolated from their families and culture. The group identifies itself as “a coalition of over 250 global campaign groups representing Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hongkongers, Chinese, Southern Mongolians, Taiwanese, and other affected and concerned communities.” The #NoBeijing2022 website also provides a guide for athletes to use their platforms at the Games to challenge the Chinese regime.

“One family I know will watch the competition but ensure that their children fully understand what is going on in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere,” wrote WORLD Opinions columnist Eric Patterson, who is also executive director of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C. “The most meaningful thing that Christians can do is to pray specifically and fervently for China,” he said.

The Voice of the Martyrs has started a campaign for people around the world to pray during the Olympics for Chinese Christians, who face oppression, imprisonment, surveillance, and harassment. The Uyghur minority is mostly Muslim but does include some Christians, said Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for the organization.

“And the ultimate goal for the Chinese government is control,” Nettleton said. “They want you to wake up every morning and think, ‘How can I be a good Communist today?’ For followers of Christ, we wake up every morning and say, ‘How can I serve Jesus today?’ and the Communist Party leadership sees that as a direct threat.”

As of Thursday, more than 14,000 people from 117 countries had committed to praying through the Voice of the Martyrs campaign.

Nettleton said that whether Christians choose to watch the Olympics is a personal choice, but one to be made with eyes open, as the Olympics will be a propaganda tool for the Chinese government.

Kokbore echoed that sentiment. “I am a proud American,” Kokbore told me. “Because [the Olympics] are held in a country which is torturing—killed my brother, tortured my sister, incarcerated all my family members—I can’t. I’m unable to watch that.”


Anna Timmis

Anna is a WORLD Journalism Institute student.

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