About 500 Tibetans marched outside the International Olympic Committee headquarters on Thursday, led by an activist on skis dragging the Chinese flag behind him, to protest against Beijing hosting the Games.
Tibetan demonstrators from across Europe marched the three kilometers from the IOC building in Lausanne to the Swiss city’s Olympic Museum, a day before the 2022 Winter Games’ opening ceremony in the Chinese capital.
There were also demonstrations in other world cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Protesters in Lausanne, many carrying Tibetan flags, marched behind banners reading “Boycott Beijing Winter Olympics,” “Stop human rights violations in Tibet” and “Games of shame.”
Tibetan artist Loten Namling, who has lived in Switzerland for 32 years, led the procession on skis painted with the word “freedom.”
“The reason why I’m dragging the Chinese flag is China destroyed my country. China destroyed my culture. Let them realize how painful it is for us,” he said.
“Never, ever should they give the Olympics to mass murderers and dictators. It’s time to say stop.”
Demonstrators chanted “No rights, no Games” and “Beijing Olympics: genocide Games” as they marched past the Olympic rings.
Meanwhile, student activists got on the roof of the IOC entrance to hold up a banner reading “No Beijing 2022.”
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One placard displayed a skier in front of a tank with the Olympic rings for wheels, replicating the famous photograph of the lone protester blocking a column of tanks during Beijing’s deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Another said: “Don’t let Beijing 2022 become Berlin 1936.”
The lead-up to the Winter Games has been overshadowed by human rights concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic and even fears about the Chinese government snooping on athletes.
Karma Choekyi, president of the Tibetan community in Switzerland, organised the Lausanne protest.
She claimed the Olympics and their financial backers had turned a blind eye to the civil liberties situation in China.
“The Chinese communist regime is empowered and they feel this kind of Games legitimizes their right to crack down on the human rights of the people under them,” she said.
“We condemn the IOC and the sponsors for making this happen.”
Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it “peacefully liberated” the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.
But many exiled Tibetans accuse the Chinese central government of religious repression, torture and eroding their culture.
‘Inexplicable’ hosting choice
Wearing a Tibetan Buddhist monk’s robes, Thupten Wangchen, a member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, said they were not against the Olympics but against the choice of host.
“IOC: please, from now on, in future Olympics, choose a country which has human rights and freedom of religion,” he said.
Karma Thinlay, president of the Tibetan Community France group, said it was “inexplicable” that Beijing had been awarded the Olympics for a second time, after the 2008 summer Games.
“The goal of the IOC is to build a better world through sport. Unfortunately it’s not the case at all,” he said.
Demonstrator Chime, 20, who described herself as stateless, said the Games holding their opening ceremony celebrations on Friday was “so sad”.
“Is business, is the Olympics more important than people’s lives? If we Tibetans are not human beings for you, then do it,” she said.
In Los Angeles, around 50 people descended on China’s consulate to protest the holding of the games in Beijing.
Kevin Young of the Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet, said the Games were a veneer for an abusive government.
“I don’t want that the human rights violations, the torture in Tibet, Hong Kong, against the Uyghurs, gets minimized with this Olympic Games,” he told AFP.
“We don’t want to remain silent in the face of the oppression of the (Communist Party) regime.