Watching our suppressors celebrate without any consequences or acknowledgement of what they have done to Uighurs felt like a betrayal
February 23, 2022
A demonstrator holds a placard as Hongkongers, Tibetans, Uighur Muslims, their Tigrayan allies and supporters protest on the eve of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing/ Getty Images)
I look back fondly on the days when, as a child, my friends and I would play in the lanes of our Uighurland, northwestern China. We’d play football and laugh even when our knees got bruised during rougher games. Those memories will forever hold a special place in my heart. That is the fundamental value of sports, after all. It brings people together to celebrate the human spirit.
Major global events like the Olympics are no different. They serve as a platform for countries to come together, play and grow. Which is why it is so painful to have seen the Winter Olympics, which just concluded in Beijing, be used as a political whitewash to cover up China’s human rights abuses towards people like me.
My family and I were forced to flee our home and go to Turkey due to increasing suppression by Chinese officials. We had experienced various infringements on our rights but the final straw was when a woman in my neighborhood was forced to have an abortion as Uighurs were not allowed to have a second child. Despite being six months pregnant the abortion was performed in a dingy hospital and she died during the surgery. We left the country just a few days after that incident.
President Xi Jinping has taken full advantage of hosting this year’s Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, using the event as a mascot of sorts for all things great about China. China even chose a Uighur athlete to be the final torchbearer at the opening ceremony, spreading the falsehood that China is a safe and welcoming place for us to be. Watching our suppressors celebrate without any consequences or acknowledgement of what they have done to Uighurs felt like a betrayal.
The evidence of China’s human rights abuses is horrifying and instead of imposing sanctions, like many Western nations have done, the International Olympic Committee encouraged China by allowing the games to take place in Beijing. Despite its Code of Ethics stating that human rights must be “upheld and recognised” the IOC insisted in a statement about this year’s games that the governing body must “remain neutral on all global political issues”.
It’s not the first time this has happened either. When Beijing was selected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics many assumed such a move would open China up to the world, the spotlight forcing it to improve its human rights issues to seem a peaceful and kind country. Instead, it had the opposite effect.
In the run-up to and during the 2008 games several people were imprisoned or threatened for speaking out and protesting against China’s human rights abuses – including Tibetan activists and Falun Gong practitioners. Instead of improving things China just pressured people to be quiet while the country was under the global spotlight. Since 2008 China has only increased its repression of Tibet, so much so that human rights activists claim that every part of Tibetan life is under siege.
The IOC should have learned from its past mistakes and not permitted China to host the Winter Olympics. This would have sent a strong message that China cannot expect to keep crushing human lives and the rest of the world will just stand by. That if the Chinese Communist Party chooses to boycott ethics then the world will boycott China and choose to punish it for its inhumane actions.
The IOC says that it doesn’t have the mandate to intervene in China’s acts of persecution, and that it should remain the role of governments. However, if it continues with this philosophy, the IOC could be on the wrong side of history, as support for the Uighur community is growing, and not just in the West.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), hailed as the collective voice of the Muslim world, is being questioned for its silence on the issue. An open letter signed by more than 90 Muslim organisations from all around the world asked the OIC to stop ignoring the Uighur Genocide. The Global Imam’s Council also issued a letter condemning China’s action against Uighur Muslims and explaining why they boycotted Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The IOC didn’t learn from the 2008 Olympics but I hope it has done from the 2022 Winter Olympics. The world must remember that Hitler used the 1936 games to present his country as a benign, benevolent and peace-loving place while advancing his racist agenda and preparing for world war. Another genocide is unfurling before our eyes and we need to do all we can to stop it.