China’s Olympic Torch relay set to continue through Tibet

Demonstrators protest in front of the Eiffel Tower

Demonstrators protest in front of the Eiffel Tower during the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7, 2008. (ICT)

Following the conclusion of a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Athens today, IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge confirmed that the Olympic Torch will still pass through Tibet. The decision not to cancel or re-route the Torch Relay away from Tibetan areas comes despite the profound concerns of Tibet support groups that the Torch will be the catalyst for an even tighter security crackdown that could even provoke further dissent and detentions.

Yesterday, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) sent a petition containing around 6000 signatures to IOC members in Athens calling on the IOC to withdraw permission for the Torch to pass through Tibet. Today at a press conference following the IOC meeting – the last such meeting before the Beijing Olympics begin in August – Jacques Rogge said: “The Chinese have expressed the wish to pass the torch in all their provinces and regions,” and added “Tibet is a part of China and a region of China so it is normal that they pass through Tibet.”

“Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of ICT, said “It beggars belief that Mr. Rogge could claim anything about Tibet is normal at the moment. It is not ‘normal’ that almost the entire Tibetan plateau has been locked down; and it is certainly not ‘normal’ that the whereabouts of hundreds and possibly thousands of Tibetans remain unknown with people continuing to disappear every day.”

The IOC has come under intense pressure to urge the Chinese authorities to make better progress towards meeting commitments on improving human rights in China – commitments which were integral to the IOC’s decision to award the Summer Olympics to Beijing in 2001. In public at least, the IOC has not yet made any statement to indicate they are in any way prepared to criticize or censure the Chinese authorities for continued and worsening human rights abuses in China, which include imposing ever stricter controls on the foreign media in China and Tibet as the Olympics approach.

Instead, according to an internal memo recently leaked to the press, IOC members were merely advised to offer their “deepest sympathies or condolences” in the event that anyone protesting against the Olympics is killed.

“The Olympic Games are an international sporting event, and the Olympic Torch is a symbol of peace,” said Mary Beth Markey. “The Olympics do not exist in a vacuum, and neither the Torch nor the Games belong to Beijing but to the citizens of the world, including the Tibetan people. This decision – or lack of a decision – to allow the Torch to pass through Tibet is irresponsible at best, and reprehensible at worst.”

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