July 31, 2015 / 12:37 PM / 4 years ago

Olympics-Rights groups slam decision to give Beijing Winter Games

BEIJING, July 31 (Reuters) - Human rights activists on Friday criticized the decision to award Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympics, saying the International Olympic Committee had sent the wrong message at a time of growing government pressure on activists and civil society.

Campaigners say human rights have deteriorated markedly in China since Beijing held the 2008 Summer Games. The last two years under President Xi Jinping’s administration have been marked by a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, activists and human rights lawyers.

Beijing beat the Kazakh city of Almaty to win the 2022 Winter Olympics, after all the other cities which had considered bids, like Oslo, dropped out.

“The IOC’s awarding of the 2022 Olympics to China is a slap in the face to China’s besieged human rights activists,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

“Over the next seven years, the IOC has enormous work to do in China to win the credibility on human rights that will ensure a successful Olympics.”

Six groups which opposed Beijing’s bid appealed to the IOC ahead of the decision, urging it not to award Beijing the Games.

Speaking on Thursday evening, IOC president Thomas Bach said the committee had been speaking to a wide range of groups, including Human Rights Watch, but that outside the context of the Games, the IOC had to respect the laws of sovereign states.

“With our Olympic values of tolerance, respect, excellence, non-discrimination, we send a strong message to the world - the strong message spread by the athletes living together in the Olympic Village in a community where all people are equal,” Bach said.

China has long argued that it is unfairly singled out for criticism of its rights record and says other governments should examine their own records before making accusations.

The Beijing 2022 Bid Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said this week that sport should be kept separate from politics.

China’s Foreign Ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tibetan activists have been particularly incensed by Beijing’s bid for the Games.

China says it “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1950 and its rule has brought development to a poverty-struck region. Exiles and rights groups say Beijing rules Tibet with an iron fist and tramples on the people’s cultural and religious rights.

“The honour of a second Olympic Games is a propaganda gift to China when what it needs is a slap in the face,” the International Tibet Network said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, and Julian Linden in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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