WASHINGTON / DOHA: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday denounced China for its heavy-handed actions against Arsenal over footballer Mesut Ozil’s support for incarcerated Uighurs, saying Beijing could not hide reality.
Arsenal distanced itself from Ozil but Beijing dropped state television broadcasts of the English Premier League club’s Sunday match — a move that could have major commercial ramifications in the lucrative Chinese market.
“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor @MesutOzil1088 and @Arsenal’s games all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
“The CCP can’t hide its gross #HumanRights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world,” he said.
The row comes shortly after China moved to punish the NBA’s Houston Rockets after its general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted his support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
Ozil, a German national of Turkish origin, tweeted that the Muslim world has been silent on the plight of the Uighurs in a message on the flag of “East Turkestan,” which Uighur separatists call the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.
“Qur'ans are being burnt... Mosques are being shut down... Muslim schools are being banned... Religious scholars are being killed one by one... Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps,” Ozil tweeted in Turkish.
China has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang, which critics say are aimed at homogenizing the Uighur population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.
Rights groups and experts say more than one million Uighurs and people of other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been sent to the camps in the tightly controlled region.
Turkey, which shares linguistic and ethnic ties with the Uighurs, has been outspoken on the issue but most Muslim-majority countries have been muted, likely mindful of China’s commercial and diplomatic power.
But a senior US official who recently met with members of Organization of the Islamic Conference voiced hope that Muslim-majority countries would join the United States and Turkey in doing more.
“Every single one of them saw the problem,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Arsenal forward Mesut Ozil should not have spoken out to denounce human rights in China, former Barcelona and Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure said on Tuesday, fresh from completing a brief stint playing in the country.
While saying the situation is “complicated” because they are both Muslim, Toure adopts a different approach to Ozil over whether athletes should use their platforms to discuss political issues.
Ozil’s criticism last week of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang led to Arsenal’s match being pulled from Chinese television. The Chinese government accused Ozil of being “blinded and misled” before protesting about mass detentions and the closure of mosques in the northwest region.
“Footballers have to stay with football and politicians to politics because you cannot be involved with this kind of things because it’s going to attract a lot of problems and a lot of things,” Toure said in an interview with The Associated Press. “As a Muslim it is complicated and it is his choice. He’s been doing his comments but I think he was wrong to say that.”
Toure, a former Ivory Coast international, has just completed five months playing at Chinese second-tier club Qingdao Huanghai. Toure’s comments on Ozil reflect the stance of Arsenal, which said it “adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
“I always love football,” Toure said during a trip to Qatar with FIFA for the Club World Cup, “and that’s why sometimes I don’t want to be political.”
Secret documents reported by the AP last month showed the Chinese government used mass surveillance and an integrated computing system to target pious Muslims and Uighurs who traveled abroad for detention in internment camps. Border guards were ordered to “ensure they’re arrested the moment they cross the border.”
China has been accused of detaining more than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang and subjecting them to torture, beatings and food deprivation. The documents showed they were forced to learn Mandarin and Communist ideology.