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Uyghur athlete puzzled by reaction to selection as lighter of Beijing 2022 Olympic Cauldron

By Geoff Berkeley

March 18, 2022

Dinigeer Yilamujiang expressed her frustration about Western media coverage of her lighting the Olympic flame at the start of Beijing 2022 during an interview with the Chinese state-run China Daily ©China Daily

Uyghur cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang has reportedly hit back at criticism surrounding her controversial selection as a Cauldron-lighter at last month’s Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing

Dinigeer joined Nordic combined athlete Zhao Jiawen in lighting a small Flame that was placed inside a large snowflake at the Beijing National Stadium to mark the start of the Games.

The decision to select Dinigeer was seen as a propaganda attempt by the Chinese Government, accused of committing a genocide against Uyghurs.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States' Ambassador to the United Nations, was among those to condemn the move, claiming it was an effort to "distract us from the real issue here at hand that Uyghurs are being tortured".

China Daily has now published an interview with Dinigeer, with the state-run news organisation claiming Western media attempted to "create a false narrative about people of her ethnicity and their lives in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region".

According to China Daily, Dinigeer spoke of her frustration and confusion over reports by Western media.

"Did I do something wrong?

"I just lit the Olympic torch, is that a mistake?”" Dinigeer told China Daily.

"I am also Chinese.

"Am I not qualified to light the torch?"

Dinigeer competed in the women’s 15 kilometres skiathlon, sprint free qualification, 10km classic and 30km mass start free competitions at Beijing 2022.

She qualified for the Games having become the first Chinese cross-country skiing medallist in an International Ski Federation-level event, finishing second in the opening women's leg of a three-leg sprint series in Beijing in March 2019.

Tian Ruining, Bayani Jialin, Alemasi Kahanbai and Hanahati Muhamaiti were the other athletes from the Xinjiang region that participated at Beijing 2022.

The International Olympic Committee previously insisted that Dinigeer was a legitimate choice as Cauldron-lighter, insisting she was "perfectly entitled to take part".

Dinigeer Yilamujiang has spoken to state-run China Daily about the reaction in Western media to her controversial selection as a Cauldron-lighter ©Getty Images

China has faced accusations of using forced Uyghur labour, operating a mass surveillance programme, detaining thousands in internment camps, carrying out forced sterilisations and intentionally destroying Uyghur heritage in the Xinjiang region.

Beijing has claimed the camps are training centres for stamping out Islamist extremism and separatism.

The alleged human rights abuses led to a diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 by countries including the US and have sparked widespread international concern.

China has allowed visits to Xinjiang from journalists and diplomats in recent years, but they have taken place under tightly-controlled conditions.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet has been refused access to Xinjiang, but has vowed to publish findings on an investigation into the treatment of Uyghurs in the region.

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