Premier League soccer star Mesut Özil has spoken out against China for suppressing the Uyghur ethnic group in northwestern China, and at the Muslim Brotherhood for not addressing the matter—much to the dismay of Beijing.
The 31-year-old Turkish-German star from Premier League club Arsenal and former player of the German national team posted his comments on China’s mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs to Instagram and Twitter on Friday. On Twitter alone, Özil has 24.4 million followers, and on Instagram 21.1 million, many of whom are Chinese.
His Instagram message read: “East Turkistan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion. They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps, and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men,” according to a translation by The Guardian.
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019
“But Muslims are silent,” Özil continued. “They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”
Arsenal is one of the most popular clubs in China, with a fan base of 5 million Chinese followers on the social network Sina Weibo, and plans for creating a commercial office and an Arsenal-themed restaurant franchise.
With the Premier League in the middle of a three-year broadcasting agreement with China’s online-streaming service PPTV worth $700 million, Arsenal quickly tried to control the damage.
“The content posted was entirely Özil’s personal view,” Arsenal said in a statement early Saturday on Weibo, a social media platform like Twitter. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of keeping out of politics.”
Arsenal and the Premier League could potentially lose millions by angering Beijing officials, with Özil referring to the Uyghur homeland as East-Turkestan, which in itself is classified by the Communist regime as a separatist term.
Özil’s comments were met with venomous criticism from Chinese internet users and communist officials. Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, a Chinese nationalist tabloid, wrote in a commentary, “It’s safe to say that this incident will damage the image of Özil and the Arsenal club in the eyes of Chinese football fans.” But he advised fans not to stir up any further international attention.
“I argue that we Chinese people should maintain a scornful attitude toward these kinds of people and their games,” Hu continued.
It’s not the first time Özil, a devout Muslim, has been outspoken on the international stage. In June 2018 he appeared in a photo with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan also served as best man at Özil’s wedding in Istanbul in June this year.