Jason Leith, a London-based member of Free Tibet’s staff was arrested on the morning of Monday 18 October, along with other pro-Tibetan activists, while protesting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics by disrupting the lighting of the Olympic flame. Jason was with activists Chemi Lhamo and Fern MacDougal in Greece to bring attention to the disgrace that the Chinese government has once again been given the privilege of hosting an Olympics despite continuing to commit human rights atrocities against many groups.
The activists gained access to a spot near the entrance to the stadium, despite intense security to prevent protests, close to where the ceremony was taking place, before unveiling banners and shouting to call for a boycott of the Games. Their voices could be clearly heard as the high priestess of the temple lit the torch in the parabola. The group is calling for a full global boycott of the Beijing Olympics, in response to human rights atrocities committed against Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kongers. Earlier, four more Tibetan activists sitting in a car on a public road near the entrance to the ceremony were arrested by Greek police in unmarked cars – it is unclear what laws they had supposedly broken.
The flame-lighting ceremony sees a parabolic mirror used to light the Olympic flame that will travel to the host city and be used to light the Olympic cauldron. The flame is a symbol of the modern Olympic movement and has been a part of the Games since 1928. China being awarded a second Olympics is particularly upsetting for Tibetans, whose protests against more than half a century of Chinese occupation ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics were met with a brutal crackdown that has led to Tibet being called the least free country in the world. The 2008 protests also began when pro-Tibetan activists disrupted the flame lighting ceremony in Olympia.
Tibetans now live in a world of constant surveillance, where their land, culture and religion are all under threat from the Chinese government. Very little information escapes Tibet because of the brutal lockdown that sees Tibetans arrested for contacting anyone outside the country, but we do know that in recent months more than 100 people in one town were arrested for crimes as trivial as having pictures of the Dalai Lama or participating in unauthorised internet chat groups. Elsewhere, a teacher is still missing after being detained for protesting the forced closure of the school she worked at, which taught students using the Tibetan language. The activists say that the international community cannot allow China to sportswash these atrocities with the glamour and veneer of respectability the Olympic Games brings.