Athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in China next month were warned on Tuesday not to speak out on human rights issues while in the country for their own safety, according to Reuters.
Human rights groups have criticized the International Olympic Committee for awarding the games to China, citing the communist dictatorship's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority. China denies the allegations of human rights abuses.
"There's really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes," Rob Koehler told athletes in a seminar sponsored by Human Rights Watch. "Silence is complicity and that's why we have concerns. So, we're advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home."
Koehler is the director general of Global Athlete, an "athlete start-up movement aiming to inspire and drive change across the world of sport," according to the organization's website.
Known for speaking out against human rights abuses, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom has used his platform to denounce the Chinese Communist Party's treatment of the Uyghurs, calling on Chinese President Xi Jinping to "stop the genocide."
Beijing's response to Kanter Freedom's activism was clear when the Chinese streaming service Tencent blacked out all Celtics games on the platform and removed replays of previous Celtics games.
Noah Hoffman, a cross-country skier who represented the United States at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, told Reuters that there should never be a concern about protecting athletes from speaking out about issues they think are important. Nevertheless, he acknowledged the need for caution.
"My hope for athletes there is that they stay silent because they are not only going to be prosecuted by the Chinese authorities, but they could also be punished by the IOC," Hoffman said.
Within the Olympic Charter, Rule 50 states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
In an emailed statement to Reuters, the IOC said it "recognises and upholds human rights as enshrined in both the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter and in its Code of Ethics."
The Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4. The United States, Britain, Japan and Australia have announced diplomatic boycotts of the games over concerns about human rights abuses by China.
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