Some 160 rights groups have sent a joint letter to the chief of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), calling for it to reconsider its choice to award China the 2022 Winter Games in light of Beijing’s human rights record.
It is the largest such coordinated effort so far, following several months of similar calls from individual rights groups, and comes as Beijing faces increased international backlash over its policies, including its treatment of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang and the imposition of a controversial new security law in Hong Kong.
“The IOC must recognise that the Olympic spirit and the reputation of the Olympic Games will suffer further damage if the worsening human rights crisis, across all areas under China’s control, is simply ignored,” said the letter released on Tuesday.
The rights groups asked the IOC to “reverse its mistake in awarding Beijing the honor of hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2022”.
The letter argued that the prestige of the 2008 Beijing Olympics emboldened the government to take further actions, including programmes targeting Xinjiang Uighurs and other ethnic policies.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Wednesday rejected the calls from rights groups, saying it opposes attempts by groups to politicise sporting events.
Among the letter’s signatories are Uighur, Tibetan, Hong Kong and Mongolian rights groups based in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and Australia.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, but has on many occasions fiercely defended its rights record.
It maintains that its policies in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong are key to national security and social stability.
But activists say some one million Uighurs and other Turkic people have been imprisoned in “brainwashing” camps, mass detention that has been decried by activists and foreign government officials alike.
In addition, an investigation by The Associated Press in June said that China is imposing draconian measures to slash birth rates among ethnic Uighurs as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population.
Last month, the World Uyghur Congress launched a similar appeal to the IOC over what it said were crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
The IOC responded that it would remain neutral on political issues and that it had received assurances from Chinese authorities that they would respect the principles of the Olympic charter.
China has made extensive preparations for the upcoming Games, which will be held from February 4-20, 2022.
There was an outcry from rights groups ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the time, the IOC defended the choice, saying the Games were a force for good.