China warns foreign athletes against speaking out on politics at Winter Olympics
A member of China's Olympics organizing committee warned that foreign athletes may face punishment for speech that violates Chinese law at the 2022 Winter Games, spotlighting concerns about the country's restrictions on political expression.
“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I'm sure will be protected,” Yang Shu, deputy director general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee, said in a news conference Tuesday. “Any behaviour or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”
In broad strokes, China's stance falls in line with the International Olympic Committee's established rule against political protest at the Games. The IOC also announced before last year's Summer Games in Tokyo that athletes who staged protests there would be punished.
But China's formulation of its rule appeared to be a shade stricter than the IOC's, raising questions about how Beijing plans to interpret and enforce it. Rule 50 of the IOC charter forbids “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.
Yang said Tuesday that “speech” could be subject to punishment and cited Chinese law, which is far more restrictive than many countries.
In China, critics of the government have routinely been sentenced to prison for staging political protests, or for comments they made on social media.
Athletes' freedom of speech in China has also become a flash point, after Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai made explosive allegations against China's former vice premier Zhang Gaoli in November, saying he coerced her into sex.
Peng disappeared from public view, prompting international expressions of concern for her safety.
The Canadian cybersecurity research group Citizen Lab reported Tuesday the health-tracking smartphone app that Olympics attendees are required to download has security flaws that made users' personal data vulnerable. The app's code included a list of political keywords and a feature that allows users to report “politically sensitive” content, Citizen Lab's report said.
A representative of the Beijing Organizing Committee said Tuesday they were not aware of the political keyword list and would look into the matter.
China's Foreign Ministry also fielded questions about reports that the United States and other countries have advised athletes to take “burner phones” to Beijing to avoid surveillance.
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed the concerns, saying those countries “who are guilty of the charge themselves are accusing the innocent party without any evidence.”