Boycott Beijing Sportwashing: An Interview With Australia Tibet Council’s Dr Zoe Bedford

Boycott Beijing Sportwashing: An Interview With Australia Tibet Council’s Dr Zoe Bedford
Boycott Beijing

The Australia Tibet Council, and other human rights groups, staged a rally out the front of the Channel 7 studios in Sydney’s Martin Place last Friday. Those demonstrating were calling out the television network for its part in broadcasting the Beijing Winter Olympics in this country.

Since 2009, 157 Tibetans have self-immolated in their homelands to protest the oppressive rule that their people are subjected to under the Chinese Communist Party.

Last year, Freedom House ranked Tibet the least free country in the world alongside Syria.

Beijing began its invasion of Tibet in late 1949 and took full control of the then independent nation the following year. And ever since, the CCP has been carrying out a program of cultural genocide, in an attempt to erase Tibetan language, belief systems and ways of life.

In running its No Beijing 2022 campaign against the Winter Olympics in China, the ATC is calling the event out as a massive sportswashing exercise: a classic example of diverting attention from widespread human rights abuses, with the hosting of a prestigious sporting event.

A No Beijing 2022 protest at Parliament House in Canberra

Colonial boarding schools

Whilst world cameras were focused on China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Tibetans rose up en masse to demonstrate against half a century of oppressive Chinese rule. These peaceful actions were met with brutal force and the Tibetan population has been paying for them ever since.

The Tibetan Action Institute was born out of the 2008 resistance. It has just released its Separated From Their Families, Hidden From the World report, which reveals that the CCP has rolled out a system of colonial boarding schools where 78 percent of Tibetan children have now been sent.

Whilst separated from their families and traditional way of life, Tibetan youths from 6 to 18 are forced to speak and learn in Mandarin, as they’re subjected to a “highly politicised curriculum intended to make them identify as Chinese”.

This is an aspect of colonialism that was employed by the British Empire and saw the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families in nations, like Canada and Australia, to be placed in English-speaking boarding schools, where traditional ways of life were suppressed.

No Beijing 2022

The Australia Tibet Council is now embarking on a new stage of its campaign against the Beijing Winter Olympics. I Will Not Watch is calling on the Australian public to boycott the Channel 7 coverage of the international sporting event.

While this week has seen Venerable Bagdro marching from Newcastle to Sydney in opposition to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The Tibetan Buddhist monk spent four years in a Chinese prison, after being detained in 1988 over protesting against Chinese religious repressions in his country.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Australia Tibet Council executive officer Dr Zoë Bedford about the circumstances that warrant the charge of sportswashing, the implications of the colonial boarding school system, and the alternative viewing event her organisation has for Australians.

Australia Tibet Council executive officer Dr Zoë Bedford

Last Friday, the Australia Tibet Council conducted a protest outside the Channel 7 studios in Martin Place. This was part of the No Beijing 2022 campaign, which is calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in China.

The Beijing Winter Olympics are set to take place over a two week period commencing on 4 February. Dr Bedford, why is ATC organising to boycott the event?

This is a massive propaganda exercise for China. They’ll use this opportunity to try and sportswash their terrible human rights record away.

ATC was instrumental in getting the diplomatic boycott from the Australian government last year. And we applaud them for taking a stand against China’s human rights record.

There are many elements to an Olympic Games. There is sponsorship, and there is broadcasting. And, of course, there’s the athletes themselves.

We’ve taken measures to say Channel 7 should consider how complicit they are with the Chinese government in their broadcasting of these games and spreading Beijing’s propaganda message.

That’s why we organised that campaign.

We’re also organising the I Will Not Watch campaign for the rest of the Olympics, explaining that this is going to be a massive sportswashing exercise and that the truth needs to be told.

That truth is that China is a human rights abuser. China is devastating the people of Tibet. The Uyghur people are facing a genocide. Hong Kong has effectively been destroyed, and it’s now an authoritarian state.

People need to know this. We can’t just smile this away with all the celebrations of the Chinese Winter Olympics.

So, people can join the I Will Not Watch campaign. They can make a personal pledge not to watch the Olympic Games.

They can sign up to our human rights film festival, which is an online event that has documentaries about Tibet, the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, as well as authoritarianism in China. So, people can sign up and watch those.

We’re offering these alternatives to watching the Olympic Games because I don’t want to be complicit in China’s propaganda exercise and a lot of Australians don’t want that either.

In 1959, the Tibetan Uprising against Chinese rule occurred, which was brutally suppressed. The Dalia Lama soon fled afterwards, with many Tibetans having followed him since.

Seventy years on, how would you describe life for the 6 million Tibetans continuing to live in their homelands under Chinese Communist Party rule?

I describe it as extremely oppressive, and I’m not the only one. Freedom House last year ranked Tibet as the world’s worst countries for human rights abuses, along with Syria: the most oppressed country in the world.

What we see on a daily basis for Tibetan people is almost like a complete lockdown. Since 2008, when Beijing had the summer Olympics, Tibet has essentially been under lockdown.

You need a special visa to travel to Tibet. It is not open to travel for diplomats and journalists. Australian parliamentarians have requested several times to go on an exploratory trip of Tibet to do factfinding and the Chinese government has refused to issue visas.

Tibetans themselves can’t travel around Tibet freely. For example, one of the sponsors of the Beijing Winter Olympics is Airbnb. Tibetan and Uyghur people are not able to book and stay in an Airbnb in China, because of the special visa arrangements. So, they’re excluded from that.

We’re also seeing terrible cases of human rights abuses of political prisoners. People have been arrested for what would be considered very small protests in Australia. They’re punished for sharing images of the Dalia Lama.

We saw a terrible case in 2020, where a 36-year-old mother-of-four died in prison because she had exchanged money with her own family who were living outside of China

The Tibetan woman sent some money to a family member living in India. She was arrested for doing that and died in custody. Her name was Lhamo.

So, we see these terrible instances again and again. China has been destroying monasteries and expelling nuns and monks from monasteries. They have been closing down Tibetan language schools.

So, it’s an incredibly oppressive environment. Tibetans are watched and monitored all the time. They have no freedom.

recently released report has highlighted that 78 percent of Tibetan children living under Chinese rule have been placed in residential schools.

This has been likened to processes that have occurred in western settler colonial states. Can you speak on what this program entails?

There has always been a boarding school program in China. They’re all throughout the country. But, since 2008, we’ve seen an increase in these boarding schools in Tibetan regions.

So, there are more boarding schools, comparatively, in Tibetan regions than there are available for Han Chinese children in other parts of the country.

Previously, these schools were for high school aged students, but now we’ve seen an extension down to very young children, such as 5-year-olds.

This is destroying locally run primary schools for children. And they’re destroying any primary schools that are attached to monasteries. So, parents are left with little choice but to send their children to these CCP-run boarding schools.

This is detrimental because they’re separated from their families, their language and their culture.

In any CCP-run boarding school in China, you cannot practice a religion and you have to follow the CCP propaganda curriculum. There are some Tibetan language courses, but they’re simply a course in Tibetan language, while the rest of the instructions are in Mandarin.

The UN recommends that for the first five years of school, children should speak their mother tongue. So, Tibetan children should be speaking Tibetan to begin with, and then later on they can learn Mandarin.

But this is children from a very young age learning in Mandarin, except for the Tibetan language classes.

There is a parallel to other colonial countries, including Australia. Just as we have seen the devastating effects of the Stolen Generation, that is what we’re looking at for the future of Tibet: children separated from their parents at a young age and forced into a colonial education system.

Last month, it came to light that the CCP has torn down a 30-metre-high bronze Buddha statue near Drago county in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is a part of Tibet now incorporated into Sichuan Province.

The last half decade has also seen the destruction of many Tibetan homes at Larung Gar: the largest seat of Tibetan Buddhist learning.

The CCP targeted Tibetan culture early on in its takeover of the region. Are there concerns that there’s now a renewed campaign focusing on destroying the Tibetan way of life?

That is absolutely the concern. As you said, during the Cultural Revolution, there was a massive destruction of monasteries.

But we’ve seen a renewal of that over the last couple of years with the destruction of Larung Gar and other learning centres, like Yachen Gar. Then there’s the destruction of the Buddha statue that was built with CCP permission.

It’s very deliberate. In 2008, when there was an uprising, monks and nuns led the way, as they always have in Tibetan resistance.

Monks and nuns choose to be on the frontline because they don’t have children. They’re not putting family at risk by doing so.

So, this is a recognition from the CCP that they were not winning the hearts and minds of Tibetan people. They expected that the resistance movement would fade out over time in Tibet. But it certainly hasn’t.

They’ve seen many young people involved in the uprisings. And now we’re seeing the destruction of these religious centres, as they’re really trying to prevent Tibetan Buddhism from being so influential in the people’s way of life.

We have seen restrictions on lay people even carrying religious ornamentation. A parent cannot pick up a child from school if they’re wearing any form of religious ornamentation.

It’s become very oppressive in how they’re trying to restrict Tibetan Buddhism and its influence over people’s lives. And it’s an essential part of their culture.

Magnitsky laws passed both houses of federal parliament in early December. The ATC was a key campaigner in seeing such laws passed in this country. Why is that the case?

The Magnitsky laws are important because they provide individual sanctions.

Sanctioning countries can be hard, no matter how terrible their behaviour is. But under Magnitsky laws, certain individuals can be sanctioned by foreign governments if they have a terrible human rights record.

We believe it will be the best tool going forward in trying to get some of the worst human rights offenders in the CCP sanctioned in Australia.

This would mean they wouldn’t be able to have bank accounts in Australia. Their family wouldn’t be able to come to Australia to go to university. It’s a serious restriction.

Currently, there are really no other tools that Australia can use to push back against human rights abusers. They can express how upset they are, or they have the very blunt tool of a countrywide sanction.

Magnitsky is important as it allows Australia to try to change the situation in Tibet by sanctioning individuals and letting it be known, which will spread the message to others that if they engage in this behaviour, they will face sanctions too.

It is one of the best tools we have to bring about on-the-ground change for Tibetan people in limiting human rights abuses.

Poster announcing Tibetan Buddhist monk Venerable Bagdro’s march from Newcastle to Sydney

And lastly, Dr Bedford, Friday sees the commencement of the Beijing Winter Olympics. It will run through to the 20 February.

What will the Australia Tibet Council be doing to oppose it over this time?

As mentioned before, we’ve got the new part of our campaign I Will Not Watch, asking people to make a personal pledge not to watch the Olympics.

We’re going to be preparing people for the fact that there is going to be a propaganda onslaught coming from China.

We know in 2008 that China was pretty brazen about things. For example, in the opening ceremony, they had Chinese children dressed up like Tibetans singing songs about how happy they are to be in the country.

So, they’re not afraid to use mechanisms like that. And we want people to know the truth about what’s really happening in Tibet.

The I Will Not Watch campaign has the online film festival that people can watch to educate themselves, and to let Channel 7 know that they won’t be participating in this propaganda sportswashing exercise.

Rapid Antigen Test

Rapid antigen tests will soon be free for millions of Australians — who’s eligible? When do you need a PCR test?

Source : ABC News
A pink sign with a printed warning that says 'sold out of covid rapid test kits'

National cabinet has agreed to extend the availability of free rapid antigen tests to some Australians, but supply shortages remain a serious issue across the country.

Starting in the next two weeks, concession card holders will join close contacts on the list of people who can get their hands on free RATs.

But the rules differ between the two groups, and others will still have to pay for the tests, which remain hard to come by on pharmacy shelves.

Who can get a free rapid antigen test?

There are two main groups of people who can access rapid antigen tests for free:

  • Concession card holders
  • People required to get a test, either because they are a close contact or they are symptomatic and their testing centre gives them a RAT rather than a PCR swab

However the two groups access their free tests under different rules.

People line up against a building for COVID testing
National cabinet agreed to changes in the hope of easing testing queues.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Under the new scheme, concession card holders will be able to access up to 10 free RATs over the course of three months, at a maximum of five in a single month.

The tests will be free for people who hold a:

  • Pension concession card
  • Commonwealth seniors healthcare card
  • DVA gold, white or orange card
  • Health care card
  • Low income card

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that covered 6.6 million Australians.

The free tests will be available at pharmacies in the next fortnight.

“You would go along to the chemist, they will give you one and then they will take your details,” Mr Morrison said.

“They will obviously get your concession card details … and there will be a rebate system that works back to the pharmacy.”


Play Video. Duration: 4 minutes 49 seconds
Scott Morrison announces rapid antigen tests will be free for some Australians.

If you’re a close contact, you are required to get a rapid antigen test on day 6 of your isolation, and you can receive it at a testing centre. Similarly, if you are symptomatic and attend a testing centre, you may be given a RAT for free.

People who are close contacts or symptomatic are being encouraged not to go to chemists or pharmacies.

“If you are symptomatic and a close contact, you can go to the testing centre as many times as you need to. All of those tests are free,” Mr Morrison said yesterday.

Who has to pay for a rapid antigen test?

Pretty much everyone else — that is to say people who don’t hold a concession card, don’t have symptoms and aren’t close contacts.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese is continuing to call for the tests to be made free for everybody .


Play Video. Duration: 3 minutes 36 seconds
How to speak to your kids about their COVID-19 vaccination

“The easiest and simplest way is to make free tests available for all just like PCR tests are available and free,” he said.

Rapid tests remain scarce across much of Australia, and there have been many anecdotal reports of retailers taking advantage of the short supply by price gouging.

After yesterday’s national cabinet meeting, the federal government strengthened rules against rapid test price gouging.

It means retailers who sell the tests at higher than a 20 per cent mark-up will face hefty fines and the threat of imprisonment.

Who needs a PCR test?

National cabinet agreed yesterday to change a rule that people who test positive on a RAT follow it up with a PCR test.

A positive RAT is now considered proof of infection, meaning people who test positive on a RAT no longer require a PCR test.

Other testing requirements for truckies and international arrivals were also eased.

But the health advice remains that if you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should visit a testing centre.

Sinopharm Vaccine

Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine: Should you worry about the side effects?

Source : Medical News Today

The Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, BBIBP-CorV, which the Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Products (BBIBP) developed, is the first Chinese COVID-19 vaccine that the World Health Organization (WHO) has authorized for emergency use. This Snapshot feature discusses some of the common side effects that have occurred in clinical trials and the controversies surrounding the safety of the vaccine.

Sinopharm Vaccine

The BBIBP in China has developed the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine BBIBP-CorV. Of the COVID-19 vaccines that Chinese companies have produced, BBIBP-CorV is the first one that the WHO has authorizedTrusted Source for use against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The WHO issued its emergency use listing for the Sinopharm vaccine on May 7, 2021, some 4 months after China’s National Medical Products Administration authorized it on December 31, 2020. A further 42 countries, including Hungary, Venezuela, and Sri Lanka, have approved the vaccine. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet reviewed it for use in the European Union.

Sinopharm and the BBIBP opted to use a well-established technology to develop their COVID-19 vaccine. The two-dose vaccine incorporates inactivated virus to stimulate an immune response.

The Sinopharm vaccine contains SARS-CoV-2 that has undergone treatment with a chemical called beta-propiolactone. This chemical binds to the virus’s genetic material and stops it from replicating and causing COVID-19. The vaccine also contains an adjuvant in the form of aluminum hydroxide. Adjuvants help strengthen the body’s immune response to vaccines.

When an individual receives the vaccine, their body’s immune system identifies the inactivated virus as foreign and makes antibodies against it. If the vaccinated person subsequently comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, their immune system launches an immune response against it.

The WHO recommends the Sinopharm vaccine for people aged 18 years and older, with a gap of 3–4 weeks between the two doses. The global health agency estimates overall vaccine efficacy to be about 78%, although it notes that trial data are lacking for adults over the age of 60 years.

Common side effects

Published data to support Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine are lacking. Data from a small phase 1/2 trial that involved about 600 volunteers appeared in The Lancet Infectious DiseasesTrusted Source in October 2020. The authors of the paper reported that the vaccine was safe and well-tolerated by trial participants.

The most commonly reported side effects in this trial were fever and pain at the injection site.

The WHO reviewed safety data from three clinical trials, which included data for 16,671 participants who received the Sinopharm vaccine. Most of these data relate to men aged 18–59 years.

Based on these data, the most common side effects were:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • injection site reactions

These side effects are similar to those of other authorized vaccines against COVID-19, and most were mild to moderate.

Serious side effects

The WHO identified two serious adverse events that were possibly linked to the vaccine — serious nausea and a rare neurological disorder known as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. There was also one diagnosis of thrombus (blood clot) in the vaccine group.

The WHO also considered post-authorization data in the form of safety data gathered during China’s rollout of the vaccine. Among the 5.9 million people who had received the vaccine in China by December 30, 2020, there were 1,453 reported adverse events.

These side effects included local reactions of redness and swelling at the vaccination site. There were also 202 cases of fever, including 86 classed as severe. Although there were 11 reported cases of facial nerve symptoms, assessors concluded that these were unrelated to the vaccine.

Safety in older adults

Safety data from 1.1 million Sinopharm vaccine doses that older adults — aged 65 years and over — received in China list the most common side effects as dizziness, headaches, fatigue, nausea, fever, vomiting, and allergic dermatitis. There were no reported serious adverse events for this age group. However, the WHO highlights a gap in BBIBP-CorV’s evidence base for older adults.

Lack of transparency

There is still some controversy surrounding the vaccine, which a lack of detailed safety and efficacy data and the early rollout of the vaccine have fueled.

A January 2021 news article reported that Shanghai-based vaccine expert Tao Lina had uploaded a digital version of the vaccine’s manual to the web.

The manual listed the vaccine’s 73 local and systemic side effects, leading Tao to describe the vaccine as the “most unsafe vaccine in the world.” However, the number of side effects that the manual lists is not, in itself, an indication of the vaccine’s safety.

Taiwan News reported that censors took Tao’s post down in early January and that 2 days later, Tao retracted his criticism, saying that it was a joke.

Some individuals have also aired concerns over the vaccine’s efficacy. In April 2021, a Chinese official called Gao Fu said that the country’s COVID-19 vaccines “do not achieve very high protection rates.” Gao, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, later claimed that people had misinterpreted his comments.

WHO validation

The world’s major drug regulators (the EMA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) have not reviewed Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine. However, WHO validation, through its emergency use listing, will provide reassurance to countries seeking to supplement their vaccine rollout efforts.

Dr. Mariângela Simão, the WHO assistant-director general for access to health products, said that the addition of the vaccine had “the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk.”

WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the WHO’s validation would give countries “confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval.”