While Beijing marks the start of the Winter Olympics on Friday with blazing torches and the raising of its national flag, a coalition will gather outside the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa performing their version of an opening ceremony for the “Genocide Games.”
The intent is to call attention to human rights violations against the country’s minorities, including Uyghurs and Tibetans.
Protesters will be outside of the St. Patrick Street embassy at noon on Friday. The mock ceremony will begin at the same time as the official opening of the Beijing Olympics and will include a procession of flags raised by individuals who come from the communities under attack in China.
A flame for freedom will be lit in parallel to the famous Olympic cauldron, and a cardboard cut-out of Chinese President Xi Jinping will be awarded a gold medal for his indifference to human rights.
Activists from various targeted groups will recount their personal stories and leave them to simmer in a closing moment of silence.
Phil Kretzmar, co-founder of Stop Uyghur Genocide Canada, is one of the organizers of the event and has been demonstrating in support of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority almost every week since the fall of 2020.
“What we’re trying to do is take the profile and the publicity and some of the contentiousness related to the Olympics and focus on the people who have suffered through the persecution from the Chinese government,” said Kretzmar.
Listening to the stories of Uyghurs, with whom he’s connected through his organization, reveals shocking truths, Kretzman said. “Once you get involved, it is — it’s very hard to articulate, it’s almost physical,” he said. “The stories of torture, maltreatment, concentration camps, sterilization, forced separation — they are mind boggling.”
“What we’re trying to do is take the profile and the publicity and some of the contentiousness related to the Olympics and focus on the people who have suffered through the persecution from the Chinese government.”— Phil Kretzmar, co-founder of Stop Uyghur Genocide Canada
Mehmet Tohti is a Uyghur-Canadian activist and executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. He’s from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, where he worked as a professor at Kashgar University. But in the early 1990s, he was dismissed from this position for being too outspoken against the Chinese government.
“Despite . . . strong condemnation and the criticism from the outside world, the Chinese government never back down. Instead, it is forcing other countries to praise its policy, the genocidal policy, against the Uyghur people,” he said.
He said China needs to “confront the evil and the crimes and admit and investigate who is responsible and bring them to justice.”
The Canada Tibet Committee, an Ottawa-based advocacy group that “promotes human rights and democratic freedoms of the Tibetan people,” will also be taking part in the Genocide Games demonstration.
Executive Director Sherap Therchin said the group fights for the freedoms of Tibetans living under the Chinese government and was born in a Tibetan refugee camp himself. His family originated from Kham — in the eastern part of historical Tibet, which is now recognized as the Tibet Autonomous Region within China’s Sichuan province — and left for Nepal.
The suffering that Tibetans and Uyghurs face as a result of China’s infringement of religious freedom and human rights has been widely documented. Tibet has experienced the destruction of its monasteries and forced rejection of Tibetan Buddhism since China’s occupation of the country in 1950. Human Rights Watch states that over one million Uyghurs “have been arbitrarily detained in 300 to 400 facilities” in China, although organizations such as Justice for All Canada say the number of detainees is closer to three million.
“Just when we think that it can’t get any worse, it unfortunately keeps getting worse,” said Therchin. “The spectrum of the violation of human rights really ranges from intrusion into your daily life of religion and education, right to the arbitrary arrest, torture, and even death, after being released in poor health after your arbitrary arrest.”
Paul McKeague, the volunteer communications director for the Ottawa demonstration, said he has joined protests denouncing China’s actions regularly over the past two years after being asked to join one during a walk with members of his synagogue on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest of Jewish holidays. What is happening in China, McKeague said, reflects the kind of human rights horrors that led to the genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
“When we say it must never happen again, we don’t mean it must just never happen again for Jews — it must never happen again for any group.”
China has repeatedly denied allegations of committing human rights violations when challenged by other countries. During the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in April 2021, Chinese foreign ministry representative Zhao Lijian responded to criticisms about China’s human rights record from Canada by pointing to the country’s own human rights failings, notably the treatment of its Indigenous people.
“This is really a game that that has been played by China for a long, long time,” said Therchin. “They cannot simply point out to Canada saying that you had this past, now, let us do the same thing.”
In December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games as part of an international protest of China’s human rights record.
“We are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic games this winter,” Trudeau stated on Dec. 8. “We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns.”
Canada is joined in the diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States, the U.K. and Australia. While each country’s political officials will not attend the Olympics, athletes from the four countries will be participating.
During a Jan. 17 briefing on the Games at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Yang Shu of the Beijing Organizing Committee warned that “any behaviour or speeches that are against the Olympic spirit, and especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subjected to certain punishment.”
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