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Pompeo backs Arsenal's Ozil after criticism of China's Uighur Muslims persecution

Ozil shared a prayer for the minority Muslim group in China [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 December, 2019

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Arsenal player, Mesut Ozil received support from an unlikely source on Sunday for his criticism of China's treatment of the minority Uighur Muslims.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Arsenal player, Mesut Ozil for his criticism of China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims on Tuesday, after the superstar footballer prompted backlash from Beijing.

Pompeo’s unexpected show of support for Ozil came after China's state broadcaster censored Sunday's Arsenal vs Manchester City football match in response to the  German-Turkish footballer’s heartfelt prayer for the minority community in China.

“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Özil and Arsenal’s game all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo tweeted. “The CCP can’t hide its gross human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world,” he added.

Ozil’s message addressed “East Turkestan”, the name Uighur activists use for the independent state they want to see established in Xinjiang.

"Don't they know that years later what our brothers and sisters will remember of these bitter days is not the torture of the oppressors but the silence of their Muslim brothers?" the football star asked.

"Oh Lord, please help our brothers and sisters in East Turkestan."

He then slammed the Muslim community for its apparent silence to the plight of the minority community.

"The Muslim community is mute," the Arsenal midfielder wrote in the tweet, which shared a sincere prayer written in Turkish over the blue Uighur flag.

In retaliation, China's state broadcaster CCTV removed Sunday's Arsenal-Manchester City game.

The Chinese Football Association chimed in on Ozil's comments, saying they were "unacceptable" and had "hurt the feelings" of Chinese fans.

Offended Chinese Arsenal fans also took to social media to lash out at Ozil, many of wchih burned Arsenal football shirts with his name printed on the back.

“Do you know how Arsenal fans in China have spent the last two days?” one fan posted on Instagram.

“They are struggling to understand how the club and idol they once loved has turned out to be a gossip. Of course, if you intend to attack China, you are as insignificant in our hearts as dirty ants.”

Another fan asked him to stay out of politics.

"As a Chinese football fan, I’m very disappointed. Why can’t you just focus on playing football? As a public figure, you should know what you can say, what you can do and be aware of the consequences.”

Prior to the match, Arsenal FC distanced itself from Ozil's comments, saying they are "apolitical."

Chinese concentration camps

Turkey was one of the region's few voices willing to risk its economic relationship with China by expressing support for the Uighur cause.

But recently President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has struck a softer tone, saying a solution could be found to help thousands of Uighur Muslims interned in Chinese camps "taking into account the sensitivities" of both sides.

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but now claims that its detention centres are not concentration camps but "re-education camps" where "students" are trained to successfully reintegrate into Chinese society. It claims the camps are a necessary measure to counter Islamic extremism.

Read more: Uighur Muslims using TikTok to expose plight of relatives detained by China

Human rights groups say that Uighurs and other Muslim minorities endure political indoctrination at these camps.

Earlier this year, detained Uighur women in China's western province of Xinjiang said they were released by proving their "adaptability to Chinese society" by drinking alcohol and eating pork.

Radio Free Asia revealed in November that Chinese men often sleep in the same beds as the Uighur women, whose husbands are detained in prison camps, during week-long monitoring sessions.

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