Asia-Pacific

China state TV dumps Arsenal game after Mesut Özil's Uighur comments

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium. Source: AAP

Arsenal player Mesut Özil called on other Muslims to speak up about the treatment of the Uighur minority in China.

China has pulled coverage of a Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City after a London player criticised the country for its treatment of their Uighur Muslim minority.

Arsenal's Mesut Özil, himself a Muslim, accused the Chinese government of burning Qurans, closing mosques and killing religious scholars and urged other Muslims to speak up about the situation in social media posts on Friday.

More than one million Uighurs are believed to be detained in camps across China's northern Xinjian region, according to the UN, with some activists believing the number could be as high as three million.

#HayırlıCumalarDoğuTürkistan 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/dJgeK4KSIk

— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) December 13, 2019

The Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper posted on Twitter that the Monday morning match would not be shown on China's CCTV channel after the "false" comments "disappointed Chinese fans and football governing authorities". 

The newspaper also reported that the Chinese Football Association "expressed strong indignation and disappointment" over Özil's comments, which they said, "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".

Arsenal told Reuters they had no statement on the issue but took to the Chinese social media platform to distance the club from the comments following the backlash, describing the post as "entirely Özil's personal opinion".

"As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics," they said.

China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the Uighur population, describing the camps as "vocational training centres" aimed at combatting extremism.

Following a leak of hundreds of internal Chinese Communist Party documents detailing the crackdown on ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government held "strong concerns" about the reports of mass detention.

China is the Premier League's most lucrative overseas broadcast market, with the rights sold for $1 billion in the 2019-2022 cycle.

Earlier this year, NBA team the Houston Rockers faced a similar backlash in China after the team's general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

With AAP

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