Prosecution possible for speaking out at the Games . . .
A member of China’s Olympics organizing committee, Yang Shu, warned Tuesday that athletes at the 2022 Winter Games could be punished for speech that violates Chinese laws limiting political expression. The same day, the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch also advised athletes not to speak out while visiting China to avoid being prosecuted there. Toronto-based cybersecurity research group Citizen Lab reported Tuesday that the health-tracking smartphone app required for all Olympics attendees might collect personal info and enable state surveillance of users, sounding alarms among rights groups. In response to Citizen Lab’s findings, the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee claimed that the app follows both overseas mobile application standards and that all committee activities are strictly law-abiding. Technology and surveillance are more advanced in China now than when it hosted the Games in 2008. Foreign athletes have even been advised to bring ‘burner’ phones that can be easily discarded after use.
Controversies abound ahead of the Games . . .
China’s human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny ahead of the Olympics. Citing treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and the crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, at least 15 countries, including Canada, have announced either a partial or full diplomatic boycott of the event. Other examples of state intolerance and its willingness to stifle dissent include the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat inexplicably shutting down dozens of student-led LGBTQ accounts in July. And in November, professional tennis player Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations against a former vice-premier of China and a leader in China’s organizing efforts for the 2022 Olympics, and her subsequent disappearance, raised concerns among rights watchers. Chinese media and official channels are pushing back against such accusations, characterizing them as a U.S.-backed smear campaign to spread fake news. Some have even called for China to boycott the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in retaliation.
International Olympic Committee mostly silent . . .
Some human rights advocates have asked why the IOC has not come out proactively to protect athletes from imprisonment. Chinese officials say that punishing athletes for political speech is in line with IOC policies, which forbid political statements and protests at the Games. Still, rights advocates want the IOC to take a more active role in shielding participants from state repression. Many will be watching to see if a more robust set of actions or statements are released ahead of the February 4 Olympic opening.