The World Curling Federation has apologised for a social media faux pas that nearly triggered a diplomatic incident.
The Perth-based organisation found itself accused of attempting to “silence” a group campaigning to end a human rights catastrophe unfolding in China.
Stop Uyghur Genocide, a British movement launched to defend Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amid reports of widespread persecution and concentration-style camps, contacted the federation on Twitter to wish its players good luck for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
The campaigners suggested the team should “speak out so the Winter Olympics aren’t used to silence Uyghurs”.
In response, the World Curling Federation (WCF) blocked their account, in a “misunderstanding”.
Stop Uyghur Genocide said it was “disappointed” by the federation’s reaction and urged other social media users to ask it to “reconsider, as they’ve obviously decided that silencing Uyghurs is preferable to speaking out”.
The group’s spokeswoman Rahima Mamut wrote to the WCF’s secretary general Colin Grahamslaw in Perth, demanding a meeting with herself and some survivors of the camps.
“We were really disappointed that rather than engage with us, you decided to block us,” she wrote.
However, the federation has explained that it was all a misunderstanding.
A spokesman said: “The account was blocked in error as the federation was dealing with the number of bot accounts that engage with our social media accounts on a daily basis.
“As soon as the mistake was realised the account was unblocked. We will be looking at our processes to ensure this does not happen again and we apologise for this mistake.”
The group said it will respond directly to Stop Uyghur Genocide with an apology.
In her letter, Ms Mamut told Mr Grahamslaw: “We understand that it is not your decision to host the games in a nation where genocide is taking place.
“However, it would be a travesty if the Winter Olympics, which are supposed to promote tolerance and understanding, were used by the Chinese Government to distract the world from a systematic attempt to destroy a people.”
She later said she was relieved to hear that her campaign’s account had been blocked by mistake.
“I would still like to meet with them to discuss these atrocities,” she said.
“If they weren’t aware of what’s happening, then we are here to educate them.
“If you have the power and the platform to speak out, then why would you not do that?
“We have no criticism of the federation. We are just asking them to do the minimum, which is to speak out. The maximum they could do is boycott the games.”
Last week, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Team GB to make a stand against the Winter Olympics, and said the UK needed to “use every available tool” to pressure China into closing its detention camps and ending the mistreatment of Uyghur people.
According to human rights groups, China has imprisoned more than a million people, including Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, in a vast network of camps.
They say people have been subjected to torture, sterilisation and political indoctrination in addition to forced labour as part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese majority.
China has denied all the charges and says the camps are for “re-education” purposes only.