Olympic cauldron lit in Beijing as protesters face court in Athens

·3-min read

The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, on the day that several activists were reportedly due in court in Greece after being arrested for disrupting the lighting ceremony to accuse China of human rights abuses.

Beijing 2022 officials transported the flame on a flight from Athens, state news agency Xinhua reported, before a welcome ceremony featuring a performance from Hong Kong singer Nicholas Tse, held in the Beijing Olympic Tower on the main site of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that the cauldron was lit and would be displayed for the next three months before the torch relay – shortened to two days because of the pandemic – took place in February.

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The report said the relay would incorporate digital elements and involve about 1,200 torchbearers along a route between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, about 220km (140 miles) northwest of the capital, where some of the Olympic events will take place.

About 2,900 athletes from 85 countries and territories will compete in the Games between February 4 and 20.

“Now we receive the flame again for the Beijing Winter Olympics,” Yu Zaiqing, deputy chairman of the Beijing 2022 organising committee, told CCTV in Greece on Monday. “The flame bearing the Olympic spirit will once again be relayed on both sides of the Great Wall, and shine the light of peace and friendship in China.”

There were several arrests in Greece on Sunday and Monday as protesters from No Beijing 2022, a coalition of groups campaigning for a boycott of the Games, tried to disrupt the torch lighting ceremony.

Exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu and Tibetan-American student Tsela Zoksang were held on Sunday after displaying banners promoting Hong Kong and Tibetan rights at the rehearsal for the ceremony, before being released on Monday.

Siu, policy adviser for human rights NGO Hong Kong Watch, said on Twitter on Wednesday that she had returned to the United States but that three fellow activists who were arrested for disrupting the ceremony proper on Monday had been held for more than 48 hours by Greek police.

The three, who included Tibetan-Canadian activist Chemi Lhamo, were due to appear in court on Wednesday, according to global grass-roots network Students for a Free Tibet (SFT).

The coalition alleges that China has been committing genocide in its western Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused of targeting Muslim minorities such as the Turkic-speaking Uygur people with mass detentions, forced labour and birth control campaigns. The organisations also accuse Beijing of persecuting dissidents and crushing civil society in Hong Kong and Tibet.

The Chinese government has strongly denied the claims and said its policies in Xinjiang are to fight terrorism and extremism, and reduce poverty. Legislation such as the national security law in Hong Kong and strict security measures in Tibet are to maintain stability, it says.

Pema Doma, campaigns director for SFT, said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was “handing over the torch to Beijing 2022 … giving a stamp of approval to one of the worst violations of human rights in the 21st century”.

IOC chairman Thomas Bach has dismissed talk of boycotts of the Games, saying the body is politically neutral.

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