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Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil 'misled' over Uighurs, says China

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Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil 'misled' over Uighurs, says China
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Mesut Ozil's criticism of China's treatment of ethnic Muslims was "deceived" and "misled", according to the country's Foreign Ministry.

Ozil, a German-Turkish footballer and practising Muslim, posted a statement on his social media accounts on Friday, calling Uighurs "fighters who resist persecution".

He also accused China of burning Qurans, closing mosques and the killings of religious scholars.

"Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” he posted in Turkish, alongside the proposed flag of East Turkestan, a region in northwest China now known as Xinjiang province.

After the post, Chinese state television CCTV removed coverage of Arsenal's Premier League match against Manchester City on Sunday, as did the Chinese video streaming website PPTV.

The Global Times described Ozil's comments as "false" and claimed he had "disappointed Chinese fans and football governing authorities".

The Chinese Football Association added that his social media posts were "unacceptable".

On Monday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang further denounced Ozil's comments, saying "there is no history record of the so-called the State of East Turkestan".

"I don't know if [Mesut Ozil] has ever visited Xinjiang before, but I can tell that he is deceived by false news reports and misled by unfounded and false statement[s]".

Geng Shuang added that the Arsenal footballer was welcome to visit the far western Xinjiang region to see the situation there for himself.

Arsenal distance themselves from the comments

In a statement on the Chinese social media network Weibo, Arsenal distanced themselves from Ozil's comments, saying the content is "all Ozil's personal opinion"

"Arsenal as a football club has always adhered to the principle of not involving politics".

In replies to this post on Weibo, several images show fans in China burning or cutting up Arsenal shirts featuring Ozil's name.

"Ozil issues inappropriate statement" became one of the top trending topics on Weibo after Friday, but a search for this hashtag no longer generates results. Weibo has frequently censored discussion of sensitive topics under Beijing policy.

In a statement to Euronews, Arsenal reiterated their stance, saying they are "always apolitical as an organisation”. Ozil's posts have not been deleted from his social media platforms.

Arsenal's response echoes that of the Houston Rockets in October

China is the Premier League's most lucrative overseas broadcast market, with the rights sold for 700 million US dollars in a three-year deal that runs through 2022.

The response from the London club echoes comments made in October by Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, after a controversial social media post by the club's general manager Daryl Morey.

In October, the National Basketball Association (NBA) sparked a backlash in China after Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

CCTV cancelled its broadcast of two NBA preseason games in China, and the Houston Rockets have been absent from CCTV's programming schedule since.

In October an eSports player was also punished for voicing support for Hong Kong protestors, but gaming company Blizzard Entertainment later denied that China had anything to do with the sanction.

Özil and Erdogan

In 2018, he was widely criticised for standing with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a photograph, published by the President's account.

Erdogan was also best man at Özil’s wedding in June.

Presidential Press Service/Pool via AP, File
Mesut Ozil pictured with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2018.Presidential Press Service/Pool via AP, File

Later that year Ozil retired from international football for Germany citing 'racism and disrespect' over his meeting with the Turkish president.

Human rights organisations have accused China of violations

Over 1 million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities have reportedly been detained in high-security camps in Xinjiang.

China initially denied the camps existed but now describes them as "vocational schools" aimed at preventing Islamist extremism and violence.

In a September 2018 report, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of carrying out a "systematic campaign of human rights violations" against Uighurs in the region.

Placards of Mesut Ozil were held by demonstrators during a protest by ethnic Uighurs against China in Istanbul at the weekend.

Click on the player above to watch Matthew Holroyd's report in The Cube.

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