UNITED STATES secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday came out in support of Arsenal player Mesut Özil for his criticism of China’s treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims, saying Beijing can censor the team’s football games but cannot hide human rights violations.
The Arsenal midfielder, a German Muslim of Turkish origin, last week in social media posts called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticized both China’s crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday removed Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule.
“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Özil and Arsenal’s game all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo tweeted. “The CCP can’t hide its gross human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.”
The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1m and 2m people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an antiterrorism campaign.
China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.
Meanwhile, former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré said Özil should not have spoken out to denounce human rights in China.
“Footballers have to stay with football and politicians to politics because you cannot be involved with this kind of things because its going to attract a lot of problems and a lot of things,” said Touré, who has just completed five months playing at Chinese second-tier club Qingdao Huanghai. “As a Muslim it is complicated and it is his choice. He’s been doing his comments but I think he was wrong to say that.”
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said Özil “had been completely deceived by fake news and false statements”.
Washington has been ratcheting up its criticism of Beijing over Uighurs simultaneously as it has continued its trade deal negotiations. US president Donald Trump in November signed into law congressional legislation backing protesters in Hong Kong despite angry objections from China.
Earlier this month, the US house of representatives passed legislation requiring a stronger response to Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority.
What started as demonstrations against a now-withdrawn bill allowing extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China has morphed into calls for greater democratic freedoms and nearly six months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong. Beijing has condemned the unrest and blamed foreign interference.
Arsenal on Saturday tried to distance itself from Özil’s comments after he posted messages on Twitter and Instagram. “The content he expressed is entirely Özil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
The controversy is the latest between the sports industry and China. In October, an executive with the National Basketball Association expressed support for the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, angering Beijing and suddenly putting on shaky ground the league’s estimated $4bn market in China. – The Guardian