Lawmakers urge US Olympic officials to defend outspoken athletes at Beijing Games | Top news

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers urged U.S. Olympic officials on Monday to prepare to defend U.S. athletes from possible retaliation from the Chinese government if they choose to speak out against China’s rights abuses at the Winter Olympics from Beijing next month.

A Chinese official told reporters in January that any behavior contrary to the Olympic spirit, and “in particular Chinese laws and regulations”, would be punishable.

Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James McGovern, both Democrats, cited the remark in a public letter to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), writing that the risks to free speech and data privacy at the Games “require urgent effort” to respond.

“Chinese authorities have imposed exit bans on U.S. citizens, and even imprisoned foreign nationals, for political or specious reasons,” said the lawmakers, who head the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China.

The USOPC should “double its efforts” to engage with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), other National Olympic Committees and the US State Department to ensure that plans and procedures are in place to protect the athletes if punished for their freedom of expression, they said. .

“We further request that the USOPC communicate to the public that it is taking such action,” they said, adding that the committee should be “prepared to defend any Olympian who speaks out.”

Rights groups have long criticized the IOC for awarding the Games to China, citing its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, which the United States has called genocide. China denies allegations of human rights abuses.

Some Western countries, worried about information security, have suggested that their delegations not bring their own mobile phones to the Olympics from February 4 to 20.

The researchers said the Beijing Organizing Committee’s MY2022 app, which all participants must use for COVID-19 monitoring, has flaws that make it vulnerable to privacy breaches.

Several countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia, have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games due to human rights concerns in China, although their athletes will continue to compete.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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