Arsenal have distanced themselves from comments made by Mesut Özil on Instagram, in which he spoke out strongly against China’s persecution of the Uighur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang and criticised Muslims for not doing more to highlight the issue.
The club sought to limit any damage caused to its business in China, where it has numerous commercial interests including a chain of restaurants, by releasing a statement on Weibo – a leading Chinese social media site – as well as other platforms stressing it is apolitical and does not associate itself with Özil’s views.
“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Özil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement,” it read. “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.”
Özil had added his voice to the wave of international outrage about the treatment of the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority who have been subjected to a campaign of religious and ethnic persecution by the Chinese authorities.
Around 10 million live in Xinjiang and there are claims that more than a million have been held in detention camps over recent years. Özil’s post had listed a range of the issues facing Uighurs in China, accusing other Muslims of 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 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?”