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Beijing 2022 organisers claim stories of Xinjiang human rights abuses are ‘lies’

  • Winter Olympics plunged into further controversy

  • Spokesperson Yan Jiarong also insists Taiwan is part of China

Thu 17 Feb 2022

Protests in the Netherlands this month demonstrating against the Olympic Games in Beijing. Photograph: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

The Winter Olympics have been plunged into further controversy after Beijing 2022 spokesperson Yan Jiarong dismissed human rights violations among the Uyghur Muslim population as “lies” and insisted Taiwan was part of China.

Yan, a former member of the Chinese delegation to the UN general assembly, referred to “so-called forced labour” in Xinjiang in response to one question, before saying China was against the “politicising of sports”.

She again intervened when a question was raised regarding the IOC’s position on reports of concentration camps and forced labour in Xinjiang. “I think these questions are based on lies,” Yan said. “Some authorities have already disputed such false information with a lot of solid evidence. You are very welcome to refer to all that evidence and facts.”

Internment camps in Xinjiang was a major issue before the Games, with the US warning of a genocide in the region before leading a diplomatic boycott by several countries, including Britain and Canada. Those countries, and human rights groups, say that more than one million Uyghurs are subjected to forced labour and reeducation, and in some cases even sterilisation.

The subject has largely taken a backseat in the past fortnight, as athletes’ concerns about Covid isolation camps and then the failed drugs of 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva have captured more of the public’s attention. But it was reignited in a remarkable final joint press conference held by the International Olympic Committee and the Beijing organisers, during which Yan dismissed questions about the issues in Xinjiang.

Asked after the conference whether she had meant her lies comment, she said: ““Yes, yes. But this is not the relevant department. The foreign ministry and other ministries have released lots and lots of facts and data to refute these kind of allegations.”

Meanwhile, the IOC presidential spokesperson Mark Adams said none of its uniforms were made by workers or from raw materials from the region. He added that Yan’s view was “not particularly relevant to the press conference or the IOC”, saying the organisation was “very concerned about protecting human rights within our sphere of the Olympic Games”.

“We leave it to other organisations, the United Nations, other organisations, to look at other aspects outside of what is happening here,” he said. “The Games themselves bring a great deal of benefit to the world in terms of showing how people can work together and bring a shared feeling about what the world could be like.

“Even administrations around the world who have boycotted these Games politically understand the importance of having ways of reaching out, talking and having areas of cooperation.

“Bringing the world together is even more important at a time like this when there is such dispute and there can be areas of discussion and debate.”

The IOC has repeatedly said the Games should be free from politics, but when asked about Taiwan, Yan again stressed the Chinese government’s position, saying: “There is only one China in the world.”

The Taiwanese authorities, led by the Democratic Progressive party, however, claim the island is an independent nation.

Yan said: “Taiwan is an individable part of China. This is a well-recognised international principle and well recognised in the international community. We are always against the idea of politicising the Olympic Games. IOC has 206 members including People’s Republic China National Olympic Committee, including Chinese Taipei, the original Olympic Committee.”

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