ATHENS — Activists protesting against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Monday disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia in Greece.
Three activists managed to enter the grounds, where they unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner reading “No genocide games” as the ceremony, attended by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, was ongoing.
Security guards forced the protesters down from the ruins, and Greek police detained them. They have been named as Tibetan activist Chemi Lhamo, Free Tibet’s Jason Leith and activist Fern MacDougal, according to U.K.-based nonprofit NGO Free Tibet.
As yet, charges have not been pressed against the demonstrators.
In a separate incident Monday, four pro-Tibet activists — U.S. and Swiss nationals — were briefly detained by Greek police as they waited outside the Olympic torch ceremony.
“Activists did not protest, trespass, or conduct any illegal activity. They reported being watched by at least ten Chinese and Greek personnel outside the ceremony,” according to New York-based campaign group Students for a Free Tibet. They were released later on Monday.
The incidents came a day after activists were arrested in Athens as they attempted to hang a Tibetan flag and a smaller banner reading “Free Hong Kong Revolution” from the Acropolis.
Greek police said a man and two women were arrested “for violating the law on protection of archaeological sites.” They appeared before prosecutors on Monday morning before being released.
Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang, 18, and exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu, 22 are allowed to leave Greece, according to Students for a Free Tibet, with their court hearing scheduled to take place in January. In a statement published on social media, Siu said: “Thank you all for the attention and support. Updates soon.”
Students for a Free Tibet demands 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 Hellenic Olympic Committee respects the individual right to freedom of expression, but it is disappointing that this traditional cultural event was ‘used’ by individuals for other purposes,” the Greek Olympic Committee said in a statement.
During his speech in the ancient stadium of Olympia, Thomas Bach tried to repel criticism of the IOC’s reticence to speak out against China’s human rights record and said the modern Games must be “respected as politically neutral ground.”
“Only this political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that exist in our times,” he said. “The Olympic Games cannot address all the challenges in our world. But they set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”
Greece is under close international scrutiny over its handling of the activist cases.
China invested heavily in Greece during the country’s long financial crisis, raising concerns about Beijing’s undue influence in the country. Since 2016, Chinese shipping giant COSCO has owned a majority stake in the port of Piraeus, the heart of Greece’s giant shipping industry.
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.