BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing takes seriously the Olympics anti-discrimination pledge it has signed in its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games, a senior official said on Tuesday, but denied knowledge of a recent crackdown on a prominent anti-discrimination group.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last year it would include human rights clauses in new contracts to be signed by future Olympic host cities, strengthening its anti-discrimination policy.
China has provided the IOC with “written assurances” of its respect for human rights as part of its bid to host the winter games in Beijing, an Olympic panel said in a report on Monday.
“We are absolutely anti-discrimination, that’s without a doubt,” Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing bid committee, told a news conference.
In March, Chinese police raided the office of a well-known non-governmental organization in Beijing called Yirenping, a group which works to banish gender, HIV and other forms of discrimination. The NGO had campaigned for the release of five women activists, who were detained in the same month. They were later released, but remain under close watch.
“I have never heard of the people or organizations you’ve mentioned,” Wang said, when asked how the anti-discrimination pledge was compatible with the crackdown on Yirenping.
“You might be better informed than I am,” she added. “I really don’t know.”
The five women activists were planning to demonstrate on March 8, International Women’s Day, against sexual harassment on public transport when they were taken into custody. They were released after a vocal campaign against their detention by the West and Chinese rights activists.
The IOC has for years been criticized by human rights groups, especially after awarding the Olympic Games to Beijing in 2008 and Sochi in 2014.
The latter Games were tarnished by a Russian anti-gay propaganda law that opponents said curtailed the rights of homosexuals in the country.
Activists have already expressed concern about the possibility Beijing will win, with Tibetan groups this week saying that China’s rights record disqualifies it.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a broad crackdown on the country’s rights community since he took office in 2013, in what some groups call the worst suppression of dissent in two decades.
While Beijing won acclaim for its successful hosting of the 2008 Olympics, rights groups said the Games were marked by forced evictions - claims angrily dismissed at the time by the government - and other abuses.
Beijing is competing with Almaty, Kazakhstan, in its bid to host the 2022 Games. The IOC will pick the winner in July.
Editing by Ben Blanchard