SHANGHAI – English soccer club Arsenal tried on Saturday 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 toward its Muslim Uighur minority.
"The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion," the official account of Arsenal Football Club said 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’s crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response.
"(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," Ozil, who is a Muslim, said in his posts.
The club’s Twitter account did not have a post addressing Ozil’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019
But replies to Arsenal’s Weibo post were angry, with one showing a shredded Ozil soccer 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 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.
China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.