Beijing Olympics 2022

Chinese paramilitary policemen patrol near the National Stadium or Bird’s Nest at the Olympic Green in Beijing two weeks before the start of the Olympic Games in 2008. © REUTERS/Claro Cortes

Just six months after the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, all eyes turned toward China for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Just as in 2008, the Communist Party of China has continued its legacy of sportswashing – using the Games to distract from its major human rights abuses strengthen the perception of the Party’s validity, power and trust on the world stage.

Safety Advisory for Journalists

China has been the world’s worst jailer of journalists for three years running — journalists covering the event faced challenges from coronavirus restrictions and digital surveillance, with one reporter even being forcibly removed by Olympic security during a live broadcast. Read more from CPJ.

Human Rights Abuses in China

Crimes Against Humanity in Xinjiang

The Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, including mass arbitrary detention, torture, mass surveillance, cultural and religious erasure, separation of families, forced labour, sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights. 

Repression of Freedom in Hong Kong and Tibet

Since 2020, Beijing has increased its efforts to crush human rights in Hong Kong, including jailing legislators and journalists and devastating press and other freedoms. A particular tipping point was the closing of Apple Daily in June 2021, following the arrest of staff and freezing of assets by national security police, which Amnesty International called “the blackest day for media freedom in Hong Kong’s recent history.” In Tibet, the Party has continued to increase efforts to subjugate Tibetan identity and repress religious freedom in Tibet.  

Failed Response to Covid-19

Chinese authorities initially covered up news about Covid-19 and the deaths of Chinese health workers and then surveilled and harassed families of those who died of the virus. Beijing’s silencing of human rights defenders, journalists and activists, and restrictions on the internet also make it difficult to obtain accurate and timely information about health conditions and what is actually happening in the country. Additionally, the Olympic smartphone app used for daily Covid-19 monitoring (My2022) included a list of censorship keywords and failed to meet adequate standards for encryption.

Silencing Activists and Athletes

China has a long history of silencing human rights defenders and anyone who speaks out against the Party. This kind of repression extends to athletes as well. In November of 2021, tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared for three weeks after raising a complaint of sexual assault against one of the Party’s former top officials. She later resurfaced and recanted, most likely after facing pressure or threats from the Chinese government, with the aid of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Gaps in the IOC’s Human Rights Protections for Beijing

Although human rights groups and trade unions have been calling out the IOC to include a “Principle 8 of Olympism”, the Olympic Charter still does not contain any language regarding the need to respect human rights. The Host City Contract for Beijing, which determines the rules and responsibilities of the host city for a particular Olympics, contained no mention of human rights. 

Another concerning policy of the IOC is Rule 50, which punishes athletes for asserting their right to free expression and protest on the podium. Though the IOC relaxed a complete ban on athlete protest ahead of Tokyo 2020, the rule remains in place – repressing free speech and signaling alignment with rights-abusing countries like China or Belarus, whose athletes cannot even criticize coaches without fear of retaliation by their national governments.  

The IOC Must Act Now

Through public pressure, we have made great strides toward embedding human rights in the world of sport over the last decade. Beijing 2022 is no different. Billions of fans turned their eyes, voices and hearts not only to the athletes competing in China, but also to the thousands of people suffering at the hand of its government – Peng Shuai, the Uyghurs and ethnic minorities, and the activists and journalists who uphold the truth. The IOC must act now to ensure the human rights catastrophe of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics never happens again.

“Increasingly, fans are saying that they don’t want to sit in a stadium that workers died to build, and they don’t want to buy clothes or products that may have been made with forced labour. FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, has adopted a human rights policy because of this global pressure. This means that the public has an incredible voice to demand reforms. These Olympics and Paralympics in China are a rare chance to do just that.” – Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch

Join this movement today by signing the petition to call for the release of Xinjiang detainees.

Learn More 

Explore the following resources to learn more about China’s human rights abuses and the Olympic Games in Beijing – and stay tuned for upcoming campaigns and more ways to take action.