‘How could the world let this happen?’: Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong calls to boycott Beijing 2022

Protesters disrupted the Winter Olympics torch-lighting ceremony in Greece last week, due to alleged human rights abuses in China Credit: Free Tibet/John Jones

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Will Tullis

There are just 100 days to go until the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics begin.

But there is a growing movement calling for athletes, sponsors and spectators to boycott the Games, following allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese state.

Last week, activists disrupted the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece to protest over China hosting the games.

ITV News spoke to people from Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong communities – who all allege human rights abuses or increasing Chinese control – who say Beijing hosting the games “goes against all Olympic values”.

A screen showing Chinese president Xi Jinping in Xinjiang province. China has been accused of repressing Uyghur in the province Credit: AP

Who are the Uyghurs and what is happening in Xinjiang?

The Chinese government is accused of repressing mostly Muslim ethnic groups, such as the Uyghurs, in Xinjiang province.

In recent days, 43 countries at a United Nations meeting criticised China, saying there are “credible-based reports” that the government sends Uyghurs to “re-education camps”.

The Chinese government denies these allegations.

ITV News spoke to a man from Xinjiang who claims he was detained and spent time in a prison camp.

Baqitali Nur (pictured) gave evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal earlier this year. He claims he spent a year in a detention camp in 2017.

Baqitali Nur is a Kazakh Muslim, who worked as a vegetable seller. In 2017, he says he was detained without charge. Mr Nur claims he then spent a year in what he calls a concentration camp.

"I have survived things that no man should ever have to live through”, he told ITV News.

The 49-year-old, who came to the UK earlier this year seeking asylum, alleges he was tortured and saw inmates beaten to death.

He claims that he was forced to flee to the UK after he spoke out against the Chinese government, and that his wife and children – who are now in Kazakhstan – have been threatened.

“I am terrified that they will be taken away like I was”, he said.

Mr Nur said he is “shocked and horrified” that China is hosting the Winter Olympics:

“I shared my story because I believed that once the world knew what the Chinese government was doing to us, they would act”, he said.

“[But] instead of facing consequences, China has instead been given the honour of hosting the [Winter] Olympic games.”

The Chinese government has been accused of arbitrarily detaining Uyghur people and other Muslim-majority ethnic groups in Xinjiang province Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP

Speaking through a Kazakh translator, he went on to question why the international community has allowed China to host the Winter Olympics: “How could the world let this happen?” He said.

“Do they not care about my people at all? We need the world to do more, to do everything in its power to save the Kazakh and the Uyghurs’ culture, and people, before it is too late."

China has rejected the allegations made by Mr Nur, who testified at the Uyghur Tribunal in London, which was set up to investigate alleged human rights abuses.

Although it is impossible to verify the claims made by Mr Nur, the UN is negotiating access to Xinjiang province to investigate the allegations.

Why are some people from Hong Kong calling for a boycott?

At the lighting of the Olympic torch in Olympia, Greece last week, three protesters breached police barriers and unfurled a banner saying “No Genocide Games”, and waved a Tibetan flag. The protesters were then detained by Greek police.

ITV News spoke to one of the protesters, Joey Siu. Ms Siu – who has since been released – is from Hong Kong.

She said China’s actions in her home city have left her with a pain that cannot be erased.

“As a Hongkonger, I have witnessed my friends being arrested, imprisoned and forced into exile one by one”, she told ITV News.

She said China has “violated every promise” it made to uphold Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.

Since control of Hong Kong was handed back to China after decades of British rule, an agreement was made that the city would be governed by a “one country, two systems” approach. This meant that although Hong Kong would be Chinese territory, it would enjoy a level of autonomy relating to its government, laws and its economy.

But last year, China introduced a national security law which makes it easier to punish protesters and reduces Hong Kong’s autonomy.

China says the law is to stop terrorism and actions that threaten national security. But there has been criticism that in practice, the law is a way of crushing protest.

Human rights group Amnesty International announced this week that it will close its Hong Kong office following the national security law.

Amnesty says it can no longer guarantee the safety of its staff.

Anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong took place throughout 2019-2020, before the pandemic Credit: AP

Why are Tibetan rights groups saying no to Beijing 2022?

China is also accused of human rights abuses in Tibet. Over the centuries since Tibet was an independent empire, it has been invaded and ruled by different nations, including China.

Since 1950, Tibet has been governed by China as the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

But human rights groups accuse the Chinese government of repressing Tibetan people and their culture. The group Free Tibet accuses China of arbitrary detention and torture of Tibetan people. China is also accused of crushing protest in Tibet.

Tibetan monks protesting with an image of the Dalai Lama, who they consider their leader Credit: Free Tibet

ITV News spoke to Tenzin Choekyi, an ethnic Tibetan who works for Tibet Watch.

Ms Choekyi, 30, criticised Chinese state censorship in Tibet, and spoke of how difficult it is to get independent journalists into Tibet.

She told ITV News that while Tibetans in Tibet and in exile suffer, Chinese state media will report on “the happiness and pride” at hosting the games.

“That is the violence of Beijing's Olympics”, she said.

China rejects these allegations and claims Tibet enjoys autonomy as part of China.

Some protesters are calling Beijing 2022 "the Genocide Games" in reference to alleged human rights abuses in China Credit: John Jones

What are the protests demanding?

The group “No Beijing 2022” has called for governments and sponsors to boycott the games.

Rahima Mahmut, an ethnic Uyghur who leads the UK’s branch of World Uyghur Congress, is also calling for a boycott from sponsors, spectators and athletes.

Ms Mahmut told ITV News: “If the Olympics really celebrates unity and peace, it wouldn’t be in China. China hosting [the Winter Olympics] goes against all Olympic values”.

Ben Rogers of Hong Kong Watch says that while athletes deserve the opportunity to compete, sponsors should to boycott the games.

Mr Rogers, who was denied entry to Hong Kong in 2017, told ITV News that the UK government should reduce its trade with China, and that consumers should consider whether things they buy are linked to human rights abuses.

What has the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said?

In response to calls for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to challenge China, the IOC’s vice president John Coates said his organisation is “not a world government” and that the IOC has to “respect the sovereignty” of host countries.

What next?

More protests will take place between now and February, when the games take place.

Rights groups responded positively on Tuesday after Lisa Nandy MP, who has been a vocal supporter of Uyghur rights, called on Parliament to reconsider trade agreements with states accused of human rights abuses.

But between now and the start of Beijing 2022, Ms Mahmut says that Uyghur people, Tibetans, and Hong Kongers need to fight to make their voices, people, and cause heard on the world stage.