The sun sets behind the Olympic Rings atop a tower near the Yanqing cluster of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, China, January 19, 2022. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Chinese officials issued a warning to foreign athletes that they may be “subject to certain punishment” if they use speech that is “against the Olympic spirit.”

“Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” said Yang Shu, deputy director general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC).

Yang said during a news conference on Tuesday that any expression that is “in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter includes a rule that prohibits any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. 

As the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of speech is well known, many are concerned about how punishments for political speech would play out, as the consequences could come from strict local laws.

Citizen Lab, a Canadian cybersecurity group, sounded alarms on Tuesday after it found that the health-tracking smartphone app that Olympic attendees must download has security flaws, including a list of political keywords and a feature to report “politically sensitive content.”

The BOC said it was “not aware” of the list and would investigate the matter, according to the Washington Post.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian brushed off concerns that several countries, including the U.S., have suggested that athletes bring burner phones with them to avoid surveillance by the Chinese government.

Zhao claimed that countries “guilty of the charge themselves are accusing the innocent party without any evidence.”

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed last month that the U.S. government delegation planned to boycott the Olympic Games over the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, including the presumed detention of tennis star Peng Shuai.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. The athletes on team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games,” Psaki said.

She said American competitors will participate in the games without U.S. government presence.

At the time, Zhao slammed the decision, saying it “severely tarnishes the spirit of the Olympic Charter.”

“It’s a naked political provocation, and more, a serious offense to 1.4 billion Chinese people,” he said.

Zhao added that “if the U.S. insists on going its own way, China must take resolute countermeasures” but did not specify what those measures could include.

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