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ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Human rights activists on Tuesday urged international governments, sponsors and athletes to boycott what they called China’s “genocide games” as Greek authorities hand over the Olympic torch to the organizers of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

Activist groups, who disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in southern Greece on Monday, accused the International Olympic Committee of legitimizing rights violations in China by allowing the Winter Games to be held in Beijing.

“We have once again shown hypocrisy (of the IOC),” Mandie McKeown, executive director of the International Tibet Network, said at a press conference in Athens. “They are handing over the Olympic torch to a host government that is so far removed from one of the (Olympic) ideals that it seems we are living in some kind of distorted reality.

There has been international criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region, its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, and its policies towards Tibet and Taiwan.

But the IOC, which previously hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, stepped back from the issue, saying it was not within its remit.

In his speech on Monday in the former stadium of Olympia, IOC President Thomas Bach stressed that the Games should be “respected as a politically neutral ground”.

Activists argued Tuesday that human rights in the country have deteriorated since 2008, saying the Summer Games “emboldened” China.

Beijing launched a brutal crackdown about four years ago who took up to a million or more Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities to detention camps and prisons. Chinese authorities say their goal is not to eliminate the Uyghurs – a historically Muslim group of 13 million people – but to integrate them.

“If this press conference were to take place in China, I, as an Uyghur, would end up in a camp and possibly be subjected to sexual abuse and torture, as are millions of my fellow Uyghurs,” said Zumretay Arkin, Program and Advocacy. responsible for the Uyghur World Congress. “The Olympic Games are handed over to a country actively committing genocide. “

President Joe Biden’s administration has affirmed the US position that China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other minorities is “genocide.” At the Group of Seven summit in June, Biden succeeded in pressuring his fellow leaders to include specific language criticizing China’s use of forced labor and other human rights abuses in their joint declaration.

Arkin urged the G-7 governments to follow through by boycotting the Beijing Games.

“We think we have a better chance today before the Games for governments to commit to a boycott … than we had before in 2008,” she said.

Pema Doma, Campaign Director for Students for a Free Tibet, said the IOC was making “a very big mistake.”

“How can anyone think that there is no red line anywhere in the world for genocide? said Doma, who was briefly detained by police in ancient Olympia ahead of Monday’s protest.

The handover ceremony took place without spectators in the renovated marble stadium of Athens where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.

Three activists were arrested Monday after sneaking into the heavily guarded archaeological site of ancient Olympia while the flame was lit, waving a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No genocide games”. Four others were arrested outside the site, while two other protesters were arrested Sunday in Athens after a demonstration on the Acropolis.

The last seven have been released, but the first three remain in custody in southern Greece.

The Beijing Winter Olympics will take place from February 4 to 20. Only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to attend.

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