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Rights groups urge IOC against another Beijing Olympics

Secret IOC ballot in Malaysia to decide between China and Kazakhstan

Several rights groups wrote open letters to the International Olympic Committee this week, advising it not to award the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing at a secret ballot to determine the host country Friday.

The letters argued that China's human rights record had worsened since the 2008 Olympics in the Chinese capital.

The Chinese capital and Kazakhstan's Almaty are the only bidders for the Winter Olympics in seven years. The IOC will choose between them in Kuala Lumpur, Malysia, this week.

Should Beijing win it would be the first city to have been awarded both Summer and Winter Olympics.

International advocacy group Human Rights in China (HRIC) issued a letter late Tuesday to IOC President Thomas Bach, urging the Committee “not to take any action that will damage further the Olympic brand, IOC credibility and unique Olympics spirit.”

HRIC asked that the IOC delay Friday’s ballot to allow for more time to review recent developments in China’s human rights record, including what the advocacy group called “an unprecedented nationwide crackdown on lawyers targeting human rights lawyers and activists” that was allegedly launched after an IOC Evaluation Commission’s visit in late March and publication of its report in June.

Other rights abuses have included “extensive surveillance, civil society restrictions and Internet censorship,” said the letter signed by HRIC director Sharon Hom.

Another petition posted to and signed by high-profile Chinese rights activists like Hu Jia, Liao Yiwu and Chen Guangcheng argued that the Olympics had actually exacerbated corruption and rights abuses in China.

“To put forth a good face for the Olympics, Beijing covered up a nationwide powdered milk scandal, which seriously affected the health of some 360,000 babies in China by 2008,” the letter said. “The government also banned record-holding athlete Fang Zheng from the Paralympics because his legs were crushed by a tank in the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.”

Freedom of speech was also restricted ahead of the games, the activists said.

“To win the 2008 Olympics, China promise to allow space for Chinese citizens to protest during the games. Spaces were allocated, but those that applied for permission to hold protests were actually arrested, making a mockery of China’s promises to the IOC.”

Uighur, Mongolian and Tibetan activists added their voices to the litany of activists against a 2022 Beijing Olympics.

In an open letter to the IOC, Chinese minority advocacy groups said the Committee should not "make the same mistake" by awarding the Olympics to Beijing as there was no improvement of human rights in the country since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"We hope that you are aware by now that the 2008 Beijing Games did nothing to alleviate human rights abuses in China or enhance freedom," they said in the letter.

"In fact the situation now in 2015 is far worse than when those games were awarded in 2001."

The letter was signed by the president of the World Uighur Congress, the director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, the president of Initiatives for China and a Tibetan rights activist.

Tibetan parts of China experienced a wave of violent anti-Chinese protests in 2008. Rights groups said the games were marked by forced evictions, claims angrily dismissed at the time by the government, and other abuses.

Beijing denies accusations by human rights groups that it restricts religious freedoms including that of Uighurs, a majority-Muslim Turkic group.

In June several Tibetans disrupted Beijing's 2022 bid presentation to the IOC by staging a protest inside and outside the hotel where the meeting was taking place. China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since troops "peacefully liberated" the region in 1950.

Rights groups have also criticized Kazakhstan, the only other currently available choice for the IOC. Human Rights Watch says on its website that the former Soviet republic “heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech and religion" and in detention centers, "torture remains a serious problem.”

The IOC has said it is not a political organization that can interfere in domestic matters of a sovereign state but has insisted the games are a force for good.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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