English football club Arsenal has tried to distance itself from the comments of its star midfielder Mesut Ozil after he posted messages on Twitter and Instagram critical of China’s policies towards its Muslim Uighur minority.
“The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal Football Club said on Saturday in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
Ozil’s posts called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China and the silence of Muslims in response to the alleged crackdown.
“[In China] Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” the German midfielder, who is a Muslim, said in his posts.
“Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself? The honorable Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, says, ‘If you cannot prevent persecution, expose it’,” he added.
Arsenal’s Twitter account did not have a post addressing Ozil’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.
But replies to the club’s Weibo post were angry, with one showing a shredded Ozil football jersey next to a pair of scissors and others demanding he be expelled from the club.
A search on Weibo for the hashtag translatable as “Ozil issues inappropriate statement”, which had been one of the top trending topics on the platform, returned no results on Saturday afternoon.
Weibo frequently censors discussion of sensitive topics, particularly amid a push by Beijing to clean up its internet.
The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between one and two million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in camps in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.
In a report last September, the United States-based rights group Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of carrying out a “systematic campaign of human rights violations” against Uighurs in Xinjiang.
China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs. It describes the complexes in Xinjiang as “vocational training centres” that are helping stamp out “extremism” and give people new skills.