By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - Human rights activists are stepping up efforts to derail Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, hoping their protests and petitions can thwart what appears to be almost certain victory for the Chinese capital.
Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics Games, hopes to beat Almaty, Kazakhstan, and win the 2022 Winter Olympics, when a decision is made on Friday in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
But five groups opposing Beijing's bid have appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urging it not to award Beijing the Games.
"China is now facing a human rights crisis with a scale of violations that is unprecedented since 2008," U.S.-based Chinese rights activists Rose Tang and Gu Yi said in a letter last week to the IOC.
Like other campaigners, Tang and Gu said human rights have deteriorated in China since Beijing held the 2008 Games. The last two years under President Xi Jinping's administration have been marked by a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, activists and human rights lawyers.
"If the IOC awards the games to Beijing, it sends a signal, a message to the entire world, that it's the right thing to encourage a dictatorship which violates human rights blatantly on a larger and larger scale," Tang told Reuters.
China has long argued that it is unfairly singled out for criticism of its rights record and says other governments should examine their own records before making accusations.
"At a time when the Chinese people are looking forward to a successful and exciting Winter Olympics, a few people with ulterior motives are politicizing the Olympic Games," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement to Reuters.
"This is not in keeping with the Olympic spirit and will not enjoy popular support."
"POWER OF SPORT"
The Beijing 2022 Bid Committee said sport should be kept separate from politics.
"While it is only normal for different groups to raise specific interests around major sporting events, we believe in the Olympic Charter's vision to protect the power of sport from political influence," the committee said in an e-mailed response to Reuters.
The IOC did not respond to a request for comment.
Protests are being planned outside the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles and the IOC office in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday and Friday respectively, according to Cheng Qiubo, a rights activist based in Los Angeles, and Tenzin Dechen Yundung, president of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe.
In 2008, activists disrupted the Olympic torch relay at several international stops and protested during the torch lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece, in a bid to embarrass China.
Padma Dolma, of the British-based Students for Free Tibet, unfurled the Tibetan flag in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2008 before she was detained.
Now she's again hoping to disrupt Beijing's plans.
"We want to shame the Chinese government and the IOC into not allowing these Games to happen," she said.
Du Yanlin, who signed a letter opposing the Games in Beijing, said state security officers summoned him last Saturday for a meeting.
"According to what they said, the Winter Olympics is an important event for both Beijing and the country, the leaders are paying close attention," Du said. "So your issuing a statement will mean that they will definitely look for you."
The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)