Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Amnesty asks Kiwi Olympians to take stand

Tuesday June 10, 2008
Amnesty International wants Olympians to speak out over human rights abuses in China. Photo / Martin Sykes

Amnesty International wants Olympians to speak out over human rights abuses in China. Photo / Martin Sykes

NZ Herald: Amnesty International is sending information packs to New Zealand Olympic athletes in the hope they will speak out about human rights abuses in China.

Two months out from the Beijing Olympics, Amnesty International has written to Olympic athletes backgrounding its concerns about China.

The packs tell the stories of those who have suffered under the Chinese government, outlines Amnesty's position on the Olympics, suggests ways athletes can take action and contains badges, bumper stickers and tattoos.

Athletes are being asked to speak out, write to those jailed by the Chinese regime, sign petitions and a banner, place an Amnesty sticker on their luggage or sports bag, and put their views on Amnesty's China campaign website.

"We would like Kiwi athletes speak out as international athletes have," Amnesty campaigns manager Margaret Taylor told NZPA.

"New Zealanders have never shied away from speaking out for what is right."

The pack cites Dutch triple Olympic swimming champion Pieter van den Hoogenband as calling for Olympic boss Jacques Rogge to speak out on behalf of all athletes against the human rights situation in China

"We know that like...van den Hoogenband you will be concentrating on delivering the best performance of your lives in Beijing," the letter to athletes reads.

"But that hasn't stopped Pieter speaking out and that is why we are writing to ask you to do the same."

Ms Taylor said the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC), which prepares and organises the Olympic team, knew what was planned.

A spokeswoman for the NZOC told NZPA it had no objection to athletes being contacted by Amnesty International, but it would not be supplying contact details.

"While we support freedom of expression and the right of organisations and individuals to hold and express their views, assisting third parties to distribute material, such as Amnesty International's information kit, is not part of our focus or role," she said.

An Amnesty report released this year said abuses, including the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, use of the death penalty, censorship, restrictions on assembly and repression of minorities were still commonplace in China.

Severe restrictions remained on freedom of religion, freedom, and association in Tibet while peaceful expressions of support for the Tibetan spiritual and political leader the Dalai Lama were "harshly punished", it said.

In February, the NZOC said a controversial clause criticised as gagging New Zealand's athletes at the Beijing Olympics would be changed if athletes want.

Green MP Keith Locke welcomed the "U-turn", saying it would give New Zealand athletes the right to speak freely about what they saw in China.

Double Olympic equestrian gold medallist Mark Todd has said he would peacefully protest the issue of Tibet, if selected.

"I think athletes in general would be obliged to do something like that," he said.


OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

No comments: