Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Olympics

ATHENS — Activists protesting against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics were arrested in Athens on Sunday as they attempted to hang a banner from the Acropolis.

The protest came ahead of ceremonies to light the Olympic flame and begin its journey from ancient Olympia to Beijing, where the games are due to start on February 4.

Greek police said a man and two women were arrested “for violating the law on protection of archaeological sites.” A senior Greek official said they will appear before the prosecutor on Monday morning.

A New York-based campaign group called Students for a Free Tibet said two of those arrested were Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang, 18, and exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu, 22.

“We call on the Greek authorities to resist any pressure from the Chinese Government to extradite these activists,” said a statement from another group, the U.K.-based Hong Kong Watch.

Greece can expect close international scrutiny of its handling of the case.

China invested heavily in Greece during the country’s long financial crisis, raising concerns about Beijing’s undue influence in the country.

In 2017, Greece drew criticism when it vetoed a planned European Union condemnation of China’s human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

A focus of concern is the Chinese shipping giant COSCO’s majority ownership of the port of Piraeus, the heart of Greece’s giant shipping industry. Since COSCO took over in 2016, the port has become a key link in China’s Belt and Road infrastructure network.

Using the port as a trans-shipment hub for Asian container vessels traveling to and from Europe via the Suez Canal, COSCO aims to make Piraeus the biggest transit port in the Mediterranean.

In Sunday’s incident, activists entered the historic Acropolis monument in the Greek capital as tourists and climbed the scaffolding. A security officer quickly confiscated a banner they tried to unfurl.

However, the two women were able to put up a Tibetan flag and a smaller banner reading “Free Hong Kong Revolution.” They chanted slogans calling for a boycott of the Beijing games until police arrived and detained them.

“Now it is time for the international community, and all people of conscience, to take a stand and boycott Beijing 2022; anything less will be a clear endorsement of China’s genocidal regime,” Zoksang was quoted as saying in the Students for a Free Tibet statement.

The group demands that the International Olympic Committee reverse a decision to award the games to Beijing, citing human rights abuses, including China’s treatment of the Uyghur people, the occupation of Tibet and the crackdown in Hong Kong.

“The Chinese government is right now carrying out genocide, occupation, and an unprecedented assault against democracy and human rights, and yet they have been awarded the prestigious Olympic Games,” said the group’s campaigns director Pema Doma. “Despite Beijing’s attempts to undermine global norms, we trust the Greek government will uphold its commitment to freedom and democracy and immediately release the nonviolent protesters.”

The IOC’s Executive Board was scheduled to gather at ancient Olympia on Sunday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.

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