For Uyghur Activist, Former Olympic Torchbearer, China’s Flame Has Turned To Darkness – NBC10 Philadelphia

At the age of 17, Kamaltürk Yalqun was among the students selected to help spread the Olympic flame ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Today, he is an activist in the United States calling for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics because of China’s treatment of his ethnic Uighur community.

“It seems to me that our sense of global citizenship and our sporting spirit is not far behind with this Olympic Games,” Yalqun said in a phone interview from Boston, where He is currently living in exile.

In the years since he took part in the Olympic torch relay and then competed in the Olympics as a representative of his hometown of Xinjiang, in western China, Beijing has imposed harsh policies on people. Muslim Uighurs, split Yalqun’s family.

With the Olympic flame set to return to Beijing for Friday’s opening ceremony, the Games are attracting new controversy globally as they highlight the host country’s treatment of the Uighurs. Turks and other ethnic minorities. According to the researchers, authorities have locked up about 1 million or more members of ethnic minority groups in mass concentration camps over the past few years – most of them Uighurs. .

Human rights groups have called it the “Genocide Game” because the United States and other countries have cited human rights abuses that led to a diplomatic boycott of the event.

China denies any human rights abuses, calling it “the lie of the century”. It describes its policies in Xinjiang as a “training program” to combat terrorism.

Yalqun recalls being very proud to be part of China’s first Olympics. Those feelings dissipated after his father went missing. In 2016, Yalqun Rozi, an editor who wrote books on Uyghur literature, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for plotting to “subvert” the Chinese state.

Yalqun never saw his father again – only glimpsed him in a documentary about Xinjiang by state broadcaster CGTN five years later. Yalqun moved to the US for graduate school in 2014 and has stayed since.

Over the past months, Yalqun has regularly joined protests in Boston calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – the first to be held in China – Tibetan activists demonstrated against Beijing’s oppression of their communities.

Yalqun said he was unaware of it at the time. All he knew, as a high school student with no interest in politics, was that he had the opportunity to go to the capital and watch the Olympics as part of a youth camp.

Xinjiang education officials selected the best students from a small number of schools, who were then interviewed by the regional chapter of the Communist Youth League about their communication skills. and their English. When he received a phone call informing him that he had been selected, Yalqun was overjoyed.

“Whether you are a volunteer, a torchbearer or you are just attending as a spectator (member), everyone is so proud of themselves to have been able to be a part of this event. Olympics,” he said.

An Olympic committee in Beijing later also chose Yalqun as the torchbearer.

The morning of the run was on a hot July day and passed “in the blink of an eye,” he said. He and the others ran a segment starting at the eastern end of the Great Wall on the coast in Qinhuangdao City.

“The distance for us to run was very short, maybe 30 meters (100 feet),” he chuckles.

Each runner is given a red aluminum torch, decorated with a repeating cloud motif. An internal cavity with propane gas allows them to catch the flame from the first bearer.

He had to keep a tall aluminum torch as a souvenir. On the bus to Beijing, he was surrounded by curious passengers asking for a photo together. Everyone was caught up in the excitement, he said.

The torch and the torchbearer’s uniform helped smooth things over when police arrived at his hotel that night to check on him. Police regularly conduct checks on Uyghur tourists in major cities.

His days in Beijing passed quickly. He was one of 70 young people selected to represent China at the Olympic Youth Camp. He made friends with students from around the world when a group of more than 400 people toured historical sites such as the Forbidden City and newly built shopping malls.

The 2008 Olympics were China’s premiere party. The country has developed at a rapid pace and become richer. The wide boulevards that were once packed with bicycles are now jammed with traffic.

It was not the tall skyscrapers and wide streets that impressed Yalqun, but the trees.

“Back then, China didn’t care much about the environment. Everywhere is just concrete and cement, with no nature,” he said. But he was stunned when he saw the green, tree-lined corridor from the newly built international airport into the city. “I can see trees everywhere.”

These days, Yalqun doesn’t want to do much with his hometown.

The Olympic flame, meant to convey a message of peace and friendship, was used for him. He is frustrated with the current diplomatic boycott, even as it has grown to include Australia, Canada and Britain. He said there should be a complete boycott, including the athletes.

Senator Tom Cotton said on Thursday that he is calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.

According to China’s Foreign Ministry, many heads of state and high-ranking global figures, including United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin, are expected to attend the opening ceremony today. Friday, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“It is a collective responsibility that such atrocities are happening,” he said. “It breaks my heart to see the cold response from everyone.” For Uyghur Activist, Former Olympic Torchbearer, China’s Flame Has Turned To Darkness – NBC10 Philadelphia

Huynh Nguyen

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