Arsenal distances self from Mesut Özil's message supporting persecuted Muslim group in China

Jack BaerYahoo Sports
Arsenal did more than not back up <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/373152/" data-ylk="slk:Mesut Ozil">Mesut Ozil</a>'s statement on a persecuted ethnic group in China. (Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)
Arsenal did more than not back up Mesut Ozil's statement on a persecuted ethnic group in China. (Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

A show of support for the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group facing persecution in China, from Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil prompted a hasty attempt from the London squad to distance itself from the statement on Friday.

The situation began when Özil posted a message on Twitter and Instagram attempting to call attention to the treatment of the Uighurs in China and questioning why the group isn’t receiving more international support.

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A partial translation, from The Guardian:

“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.

“But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”

According to a report from the United Nations in 2018, up to one million Uighurs’ are being held in prison camps in China’s Xinjiang region. Former prisoners have claimed they went through torture, brainwashing and other appalling conditions to The Washington PostAn independent tribunal has even told the UN that detainees are having their organs harvested while still alive.

China has denied such accusations, instead calling the camps “vocational training centers.” A data leak in November seemed to back up many of the accusations.

Those are the alleged human rights abuses Özil is speaking out on, and they are also what Arsenal is actively avoiding comment on.

“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Özil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement,” the club said on Chinese social-networking site Weibo on Friday, per The Guardian. “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

As of Saturday evening, that statement has not been posted on Twitter, nor can it be found on Arsenal’s website. Chinese replies to the Weibo post were described as angry by Al Jazeera, with reported calls the club to expel Özil.

Arsenal runs the NBA playbook

If this all sounds familiar — a sports figure speaking out on Chinese politics, a team quickly distancing itself, an angry Chinese backlash, a statement meant only for the Chinese — you are probably a basketball fan.

This is quite similar in structure to the Daryl Morey situation when the general manager of the Houston Rockets posted in support of Hong Kong only to be hit with a torrent of Chinese anger and left out to dry by a league with heavy financial ties to China. You will be shocked to hear that Arsenal opened a number of themed restaurants in China earlier this year.

Funnily enough, the plight of the Uighurs actually did come up amid the NBA’s extended saga with China. A group of protesters held up a sign simply reading “Google Uighurs” at a Washington Wizards preseason game against a Chinese team.

A Wizards staffer confiscated the sign.

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