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Human Rights Groups Want To Hit China Where It Hurts as Abuses Come to Light

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China’s repression of ethnic minorities spurred violent protests ahead of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics.

It could happen again.

Beijing is to host the 2022 Winter Olympics with rumblings of a boycott and calls to move the games because of alleged human rights violations.

A coalition of human rights groups delivered that demand to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach ahead of the body’s executive board meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday.

In a letter, the group asked the IOC to “reverse its mistake in awarding Beijing the honor of hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2022.”

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The letter said that the 2008 Olympics had failed to improve China’s human rights record, and that since then, it has built “an Orwellian surveillance network” in Tibet and incarcerated more than a million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group, in the Xinjiang region.

It listed a litany of other alleged abuses from Hong Kong to the Inner Mongolia region, as well as the intimidation of Taiwan.

Asked Wednesday about preparations in China for the 2022 Olympics at an IOC news conference, Bach made no reference to human rights issues or the letter sent.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused the groups of trying to politicize sports, which he said is against the spirit of the Olympics.

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China has repeatedly denied human rights abuses. It at first said the camps for Uighurs didn’t exist and then said they were job training centers to combat terrorism.

“Through vocational education and training, Xinjiang has taken preventive counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures, effectively contained the once frequent terrorist activities, and protected the right to life, health and development of all ethnic groups,” another spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said last week. “Over the past four years there hasn’t been a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang.”

The IOC argued the 2008 Olympics would transform China and improve its human rights record. Instead, they are often compared to Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics — an authoritarian state using the games as a stage.

These are precarious times for the Swiss-based IOC. Its finances — and those of 200 national Olympic committees and dozens of Olympic-related sports federations — have been shaken by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021.

Bach warned two months ago against boycotts but said he was not referring specifically to Beijing.

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After European cities such as Oslo and Stockholm dropped out, the IOC was left with only two bidders for 2022: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing won by four votes.

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the IOC member who oversees the Beijing Games, declined to answer questions from the Associated Press about reported human rights violations in Xinjiang and referred to comments from the IOC.

“Awarding the Olympic Games to a national Olympic committee does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in the country,” the IOC said in an email to the AP.

The IOC said it has “received assurances that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the games.” It added it must remain “neutral on all global political issues.”

The IOC included human rights requirements in the host city contract for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it did not include those guidelines — the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights — for Beijing. Paris is the first Olympics to contain the standards.

“NGOs, celebrities and other activist groups will put tremendous pressure on China in the run-up to the games calling for boycotts, etc.,” Victor Cha, a former White House adviser on Asia, said in an email to the AP.

“I think the IOC would be very reluctant to take 2022 away from Beijing.”

China is also the host of the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou.

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