Olympic torchbearers arrive to light the cauldron at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in National Stadium at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday. Photo by Paul Hanna/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 5 (UPI) — A Greek court has delayed the trial for three protesters who were arrested in October for disrupting an Olympic flame lighting ceremony.
The Pyrgos Crown Court rescheduled the hearing, which was set to begin Thursday, for December 2022 in a bid not to embarrass China, where the Beijing Olympics opened Friday, human rights lawyers for the protesters told The Guardian.
Lawyers for the legal aid group Justice Abroad had traveled to Greece from Britain to defend the protesters — who are British, American and Tibetan Canadian.
“They pushed it into the long grass so as not to have to deliver a decision before the Beijing Olympics,” said Michael Polak, a lawyer for Justice Abroad.
One of the protesters, Jason Leith, 34, told The Guardian that he was disappointed that the trial was postponed and recounted being tackled to the ground by security forces.
“The protest itself must have lasted less than a minute,” he said. “Our aim was never to cause damage, and it is absurd to say that we did. All we had was a flag and a banner. We just wanted our voice to be heard in solidarity with all those oppressed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a video posted to Justice Abroad’s Facebook page, Polak said the protesters “asked how Beijing can use the symbols of the Olympics and hold the Olympic Games whilst they commit genocide and crimes against humanity.”
China has faced criticism that its treatment of its Uighur population, a Muslim minority group, violates every provision of the United Nations’ genocide convention.
The United States has previously accused China of imprisoning more than 1 million Uighurs in concentration camps and subjecting them to forced sterilization, torture and forced labor.
Beijing said that an athlete who helped light the Olympic cauldron for the Winter Olympics on Friday is of Uighur heritage, an apparent message to the country’s human rights critics.
China has also faced criticism for human rights violations against Tibetan Buddhists who face “severe societal discrimination.”
Local lawyer Antonis Bachouros, who is also defending the protesters, told The Guardian that the case was toward the end of a list of scheduled hearings but that the three-judge panel could have prioritized the case “given its sensitivity and seriousness.”
Alexis Anagnostakis, another local lawyer for the protesters, said in the video that it was a “peaceful” protest “against violations of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere.”
“These activists deserve praise rather than handcuffs and criminal prosecutions,” he said.
The lawyers noted that there was no destruction or damage to property during the protest.