Uyghur community urges Australia to boycott Beijing Olympics over human rights abuses

An Australian government boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing would put pressure on China over human rights abuses, Uyghur and Tibetan community members say.

A crew member leaps to fix a logo for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A crew member leaps to fix a logo for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Beijing. Source: AP

Human rights advocates in Australia have called on the Morrison Government to follow the United States's lead and boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

US President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the nation will not send any diplomats or officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics,  in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.

Dr Zoë Bedford, executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council, told SBS News there are "a number of areas where egregious human rights abuses are occurring in China".

"We urge Prime Minister Scott Morrison to join the US in this action,” she said. 

“We’ve seen China has already reacted, so they’re clearly feeling that this is something that puts a lot of pressure on them.”

Dr Zoë Bedford, executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council.
Dr Zoë Bedford, executive officer of the Australia Tibet Council. Source: Supplied

The US's Beijing boycott is expected to further strain the relationship between the US and China, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemning the move as “grandstanding” at a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

“I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” Mr Zhao said.

“It is a grave travesty of the spirit of the Olympic charter, a blatant political provocation and a serious affront to the 1.4 billion Chinese people. If the US insists in wilfully clinging to its course, China will take resolute countermeasures.”

The president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, Ramila Chanisheff, welcomed the US’s move, but said a lot more needs to be done to check the human rights crisis in China.

“If every country stood up and, not only boycotted the Beijing Olympics, but also sanctioned policies and legislations to ensure China stops its human rights and its genocide [that] would make a huge difference,” Ms Chanisheff told SBS news.

“We can see China is already upset and angry, but we have been allowing China to commit this without any reprimand. Now the Olympics is [a] very important platform for the rest of the world to speak up and say, ‘No, this is not on. Not in the 21st century.’”

It's estimated about one million Uyghurs are being held in more than 85 “re-education camps” run by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

“I’m an Uyghur, living in the diaspora. And every Uyghur that lives in the diaspora, over a million of us, has close family members, relatives, friends that have been made to disappear in the forced labour camps, in the concentration camps or imprisoned arbitrarily for simply being an Uyghur,” Ms Chanisheff said.

“This is genocide that the US, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and a few other countries have voiced and [we] need Australia to voice it as well that genocide is being committed in the 21st century.”

President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association Ramila Chanisheff.
President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, Ramila Chanisheff. Source: Supplied

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in China-controlled Tibet, too, Dr Bedford said.

“Family members of Tibetans living here in Australia have reported the disappearance of uncles, brothers, fathers, sisters and so forth, " she said.

“These family members - they may never hear what has happened to their family who’s been disappeared. Sometimes, a year later they receive a letter saying that their family member has been arrested and is in prison, or sometimes it can be many, many years later. And they don’t know what’s happened - if they’re alive, if they’re dead, if they’re in prison, if they’re being tortured.”

A diplomatic boycott is an effective way to address the human rights crisis in China, said Jennifer Hsu, research fellow at the Lowy Institute.

“It shines a light on various human rights violations that have occurred in China, from the treatment of Uyghurs to more recently of tennis star Peng Shuai,” Professor Hsu told SBS news.

Peng's mysterious disappearance in November, after the tennis player accused a senior former Chinese government official of sexual assault via social media, has come under global scrutiny.

Fears over Peng's safety have led to the Women’s Tennis Association suspending all tournaments in China and Hong Kong

“I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement released on 2 December.

According to Professor Hsu, the international sports community around the world needs to band together and take firm and immediate action against China.

The spotlight on Peng's case "puts pressure on the Chinese party-state to be more transparent and in its dealing with a number of issues, including Uyghurs in detention, and hopefully take action to curtail these violations," she said. 

The Olympics are a rare and powerful opportunity to pressure authorities in a country such as China to respect human rights, said Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White.

“Around the world, states used sports to whitewash their reputations for serious human rights abuses - often known as sportswashing - where states invest in football teams or host sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics to rehabilitate their reputations,” Ms White told SBS News.

“Sportswashing deflects attention from deplorable human rights records onto the glitz and glamour of the opening ceremonies and the prowess of athletes and players.

“Amnesty encourages everyone - whether they’re athletes, fans or just watching bobsled on TV - to raise their voices about human rights abuses during the Winter Olympics in 2022."

The Australian Olympic team will attend the Beijing games despite the diplomatic tensions, the Australian Olympic Committee confirmed on Tuesday.

“Our athletes have been preparing for four years to compete at the Olympics. Diplomatic boycotts are a matter for governments and don’t impact on the team," an AOC spokesperson told SBS News.

Ms Chanisheff slammed the AOC’s decision.

“The [Olympics’] mission states ‘Sports for all’. How can they stand by this mission when Uyghur athletes are held in internment camps, labour camps and made to disappear, when they are prevented from competing,” she said.

“Their mission also states ‘to promote positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities, regions and countries’.

“How can [they] promote positive legacy to a country that is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners? Where people are losing their lives and being ethnically cleansed?

“Change the games, change it to another friendly country, this should have been done long ago.” 

6 min read
Published 7 December 2021 at 4:01pm
By Akash Arora
Source: SBS News