Beijing 2022 Olympics: why some want the Games moved out of China

This article was first published in the State of the Faith Bulletin. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

When Ziba Murat last spoke to her mother, the older woman urged her to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. Murat’s daughter was only 3 months old at the time and Murat, like many new parents, struggled to get enough rest.

Almost three years after that phone conversation, Murat still doesn’t sleep well, but most nights it has nothing to do with his daughter. She often stays awake worrying about her mother, who is one of the millions of Uyghur Muslims held by the Chinese government in recent years.

“September 2018 is the last time I heard my mother’s voice. I haven’t heard from him since, ”Murat said at a Heritage Foundation event about the Beijing 2022 Olympics on August 5.

Last December, Murat and his family received a disheartening update, learning that Murat’s mother, Dr Gulshan Abbas, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly supporting terrorism. Since then, they have been doing what they can to secure his release.

“Since my mother’s detention, life seems to be a painful game of waiting full of anxiety and frustration,” said Murat.

As the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing approach, his frustration only grows. Murat and others who are outraged by China’s human rights record fail to understand why the Games were not postponed and moved.

“China is not a responsible international actor,” Olivia Enos, senior policy analyst at Heritage’s Asian Studies Center, said at the Aug. 5 event.

If the International Olympic Committee and world leaders allow the Beijing Olympics to take place in February as scheduled, they will send the message that the mass imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims or the recent attacks on Hong Kong are excusable, said Dean Cheng, who works with Enos. to Heritage.

“It seems pretty clear that the Chinese leaders believe … that they can act with impunity,” said Cheng, senior researcher at the Center for Asian Studies at Heritage.

Children hold placards during a demonstration by a coalition representing Tibetans, Uyghurs, Southern Mongols, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and Chinese rights activists on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Boston. About 30 people gathered to protest against China hosting the 2022 Olympics.
Charles Krupa, Associated Press

In the past, the international community has not done enough to ensure that Olympic hosts support human rights, Enos said. For example, in 1936, the Nazi regime was allowed to use the Berlin Olympics to “clean up” its image.

In 1980, the United States completely boycotted the Moscow Games over concerns about Russian foreign policy. But the Games went according to plan and only American athletes suffered, Enos said.

“There is no reason for American athletes to be punished in our efforts to hold the Chinese accountable,” she noted.

What the United States and other countries should do instead is work together to force the International Olympic Committee to postpone and move the Games, Enos said.

At the very least, countries should make the participation of their diplomats conditional on the Chinese government’s willingness to allow them to visit religious and political prisoners, like Murat’s mother, she added.

“There is no reason for us to repeat historical mistakes,” Enos said.

Fresh from the press

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates again, vaccination mandates are becoming more common. My latest story explores the legal rights of religious objectors, including how the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Catholic employment agency could benefit them.

End of the week: strict exam

In my article on vaccination warrants, I talked about a legal review process in which the government must carefully explain to the court why it is necessary and unavoidable to interfere with someone’s religious beliefs. What I didn’t say is that the process I was describing is called scrutiny.

To put it simply, close scrutiny puts the government on the defensive. This forces officials to prove that whatever law or action is challenged serves an important purpose that cannot be achieved in any other less controversial way.

If you’re someone looking for a religious exemption, “scrutiny is your friend,” says Robin Fretwell Wilson, director of the University of Illinois System’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

What I’m reading …

Earlier this year, I shared an article about a Jewish baseball player who wants to become the first Sabbath-keeping player to make the major leagues. This week I came across another interesting religion and baseball story about the first turbaned Sikh to play for an NCAA team. “The people around me, my own beliefs and my religion have helped me accept myself and be proud of who I am,” Samrath Singh, who plays for Boston College, told Religion News Service.

Kenny and Jennifer Campbell weren’t sure what to expect when their daughter Caroline was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. They tried to prepare for unexpected challenges, but also unexpected moments of grace. The family recently spoke with Christianity today about a special project that fell into the latter category: Caroline recently finished copying the entire Bible by hand.

My Deseret News colleague Mya Jaradat recently spoke with Sister Norma Pimentel about her journey to become one of America’s best-known immigration activists. I was amazed to learn that Pizza Hut played a big part in Sister Norma’s religious journey.


The Conversation recently published an overview of religious life in China, which explores the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to ensure that only government-approved faith groups gain a foothold in the country.

These articles related to religion on the Internet made me smile this week: 1. The lego version of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC 2. Religious journalists celebrate Britney Spears’ Instagram post about going to mass. 3. Tim Tebow got teased by The Onion.

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