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Mesut Özil Speaks Out Against China’s Persecution of Uighur Muslims

Mesut Özil Speaks Out Against China’s Persecution of Uighur Muslims

As an Arsenal supporter and a British Muslim, I’m proud of Mesut Özil for speaking up against injustice in China in 2019. For a World Cup-winning footballer with numerous sponsorships and affiliations, he bravely highlighted the persecution that Muslims have faced and continue to face in China. 

The World Cup-winning Arsenal player spoke out strongly against China’s persecution of the Uighur population in the North-Western region of Xinjiang and he also critiqued Muslims worldwide for not doing more to highlight the issue.

To put this into perspective, the specific worry for the Premier League is that China is their biggest growth market for selling overseas TV rights. This is at a time when the value of foreign rights, and anything that jeopardises future growth, is a huge concern. Such is the importance of China to the Premier League, that the current rights package which covers the period from between 2019 to 2022 was one of the first they sold in 2016, with obtaining the biggest ever overseas rights package worth £564m; 12 times the value of the previous deal.

How did Arsenal FC respond?

Arsenal FC tried to limit financial damage caused to its business in China, where they have a chain of restaurants. They released a statement on Weibo – a leading Chinese social media site – as well as other platforms, stressing it is a non-political organisation and does not associate itself with Özil’s views.

There are claims that more than a million people have been held in detention camps over recent years. Özil’s post had listed the range of issues facing Uighurs in China, and reprimanded other Muslims for staying silent on the subject.

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 Qur’ans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy 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?”

He also posted a message on his Instagram profile describing Uighurs in the far north-western region of China as “warriors who resist persecution”.

His recent comments have prompted a wave of anger across China, where Arsenal FC is hugely popular. Chinese football fans have burned Arsenal shirts and called for the club to fire the star player.

On Weibo, a major Chinese social media site, a fan posted a video of football shirts bearing Özil’s previous numbers lit on fire. Others said they too planned to burn their shirts, while some said they planned to trash theirs. Some posted photos of Arsenal shirts or Özil’s jersey and wrote: “how disappointing.”

Attempts over the weekend by Arsenal to distance itself from Özil’s comments failed to calm the situation, as fans said the midfielder should be fired. Several Chinese football fan sites have said they will stop posting news related to Özil, according to the Shanghai-based publication The Paper. A Chinese football simulation game said it would no longer produce Özil player roles or cards.

We in the UK should commend Özil for his unapologetic stand. There has been a lack of activism from sports stars in recent years, so this is very refreshing and promising to see. I believe that making such a public stand can inspire many, especially our youth, to stand up for human rights and call for justice across the world, no matter one’s position or situation.

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