Western Olympic Athletes Warned Not to Speak About China’s Alleged Human Rights Violations

Athletes were briefed at a seminar by the Human Rights Watch where they were warned about speaking out about human rights issues while in Beijing.

QUICK FACTS:
  • Athletes headed to the Beijing Olympics have been warned not to speak up against China’s human rights issues, according to Reuters.
  • The Olympians were reportedly told to hold their peace for their own safety at a seminar hosted by Human Rights Watch.
  • Officials are citing Rule 50 of The Olympic Charter which states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
  • Some countries have advised their athletes to use burner phones due to concern about spying by the Chinese government while on foreign soil, according to MSN News.
WHAT OFFICIALS ARE SAYING:
  • “There’s really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes,” Rob Koehler, the director-general of the Global Athlete group, said in the seminar. “Silence is complicity and that’s why we have concerns. So we’re advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home.”
  • “Chinese laws are very vague on the crimes that can be used to prosecute people’s free speech,” Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang said. “People can be charged with picking quarrels or provoking trouble. There are all kinds of crimes that can be leveled at peaceful, critical comments.”
  • Cross-country skier and two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman weighed in saying, “I feel fear for my teammates going to China,” Hoffman said. “I know my teammates are being shielded about questions on these issues for their own safety.
  • “We should never be having to protect athletes from speaking out about issues that they think are really important. My hope for athletes there is that they stay silent because they are not only going to be prosecuted by the Chinese authorities but they could also be punished by the IOC.”
BACKGROUND:
  • Human rights groups have consistently criticized the International Olympic Committee for awarding Olympic games to China, according to Reuters.
  • Complaints about how the Chinese government treats Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups have stemmed from movements against the groups that the United States have deemed rise to the level of genocide, according to The Washington Post.
  • China has consistently denied the allegations of human rights abuses, saying the groups are “fabricating lies,” according to Newsweek.