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Beijing [China], January 20 (ANI): A member of China's Olympics organizing committee warned that foreign athletes may face punishment for speech that violates Chinese law at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, spotlighting concerns about the country's restrictions on political expression.

In broad strokes, China's stance falls in line with the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) established rule against political protest at the Games. The IOC also announced before last year's Summer Games in Tokyo that athletes who staged protests there would be punished, ignoring U.S. calls to allow respectful protest for human rights issues, according to Washington Post.

Earlier, Yang Shu, deputy director-general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee, said in a news conference on Tuesday that "any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I'm sure will be protected."But China's formulation of its rule appeared to be a shade stricter than the International Olympics Committee (IOC) raising questions about how Beijing plans to interpret and enforce it.

Further, Rule 50 of the IOC charter forbids "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" at Olympic venues. Yang said Tuesday that "speech" could be subject to punishment and cited Chinese law, which is far more restrictive than many countries' writes Eva Dou for the Washington Post.

In China, critics of the government have routinely been sentenced to prison for staging political protests, or for comments they made on social media. While it's unlikely Beijing would risk international ire to severely punish an athlete at the Olympics for speech, Yang Shu declined to answer on Tuesday what the maximum punishment could be for political demonstration at the Games.

China's human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny ahead of the Winter Olympics, with US and several other countries announcing a diplomatic boycott of the event as a statement against China's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, reported Washington Post. (ANI)

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