Uyghur activist urges Olympians to pressure China with podium gesture
Kabir Qurban remembers feeling proud of his new home as he and his parents attended the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
But Qurban, who immigrated to Canada with his Uyghur parents in 2007, says no one should be happy about China hosting the Games, which are due to start in Beijing on February 4.
He says more than 30 of his Uighur family members live under government oppression in China’s Xinjiang region.
“Allowing China to hold such an event brings down the quality of the Olympics,” he said, citing China’s record of human rights abuses among the Muslim majority. XinjiangAs good as inside Tibet and hong kong.
Qurban, now a high school teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, knows it is unrealistic to expect the Beijing Games to be canceled at this late stage.
So instead, he’s working with activists around the world on a campaign asking Olympians to make a silent statement that will raise awareness of China’s atrocities.
the Score4Rights Campaign asks medal-winning athletes to make a crescent-shaped hand gesture of hope while on the podium, to show their solidarity with those subjected to oppression by the Chinese state.
WATCH | Kabir Qurban explains the Score4Rights campaign:
Olympians warned against protests
However, human rights groups are Warning Olympians in Beijing should not speak out against China, citing possible persecution by law enforcement.
“Chinese laws are very vague about crimes that can be used to sue people’s freedom of expression,” a Human Rights Watch researcher told Reuters last month.
“People can be accused of causing a quarrel or causing trouble. There are all kinds of crimes that can be committed as a result of peaceful and critical comments.”
Qurban has been vocal on social media about human rights issues in China since 2018, when allegations of Uyghur oppression has emerged.
Last February, a motion was passed by the House of Commons claiming that China’s treatment of Uyghurs amounted to genocide. This follows the release of a Commons subcommittee report which found that Uyghurs are subject to mass internment, forced labor, state surveillance and birth control – policies which, according to the report, are designed to eradicate their culture.
In December, Canada announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, meaning no government officials would attend.
China called the boycott a “farce” and said any allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang were false.
Qurban, 24, was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a year after his parents fled Xinjiang following a government crackdown on Uighur protests in 1997.
His parents took him to visit his family in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, four times, the last in 2009.
But he said he began losing contact with those close to him in 2017, the year the Chinese government launched a plan to maximize its control over Uyghurs, according to documents leaked in 2019.
Qurban later learned that his cousin, with whom he had a close relationship, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2020 for watching a video deemed seditious by the government.
He says he was appalled by his cousin’s fate.
“I want to use every platform and every opportunity I can to stand up for my cousin, because when I meet him and he looks me in the eye, I can proudly tell him that I haven’t forgotten you.” Qurban mentioned.
Is a hand gesture a demonstration?
The Score4Rights campaign is inspired by the Salute to black power performed on the podium by American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.
But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is working to keep protests out of the Games, with Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibiting any “political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda” on the Games sites.
Despite the call from the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to the rule to changethe IOC confirmed this last April.
Qurban argues that waving in the shape of a crescent is neither demonstration nor propaganda, and he says China would not risk violating the athletes’ freedom of expression.
“If China does not respect the right of athletes to express their opinions, it will prove that Beijing was not a suitable enough place to host the Olympics,” he said.
Pressure on China
While Olympic sponsors and TV networks won’t talk about China’s human rights abuses, grassroots movements like Score4Rights can put pressure on its government, says Sean Roberts, a professor of international relations specializing in Uyghur studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s important to make the Chinese government as uncomfortable as possible,” Roberts said.
“Let’s hope there are enough smart people in the Chinese government who understand that what they are doing to the Uyghur people is not in their own interests, that it will only tarnish China’s reputation as a world power. [and] as a benevolent state. »
WATCH | Sean Roberts explains how campaigns like Score4Rights can put pressure on China:
The CBC contacted the COC for comment on the Score4Rights campaign.