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China pulls Arsenal game after Özil Uighur tweet

December 15, 2019

Former Germany midfielder Mesut Özil has criticized other Muslims for not speaking up for China's Uighur minority. More than 1 million people in the western province of Xinjiang have been sent to re-education camps.

Mesut Özil kicks his gloves after being substituted during the Arsenal vs Manchester City game
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Stansall

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday pulled from its schedule Arsenal's English Premier League match against Manchester City.

CCTV's move followed Gunners midfielder Mesut Özil's criticism of China's policy towards its Muslim Uighur minority.

The match was scheduled to be broadcast live on CCTV's sports channel; however, it was replaced with a prerecorded game between Tottenham and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"Qurans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned. Religious scholars are being killed. Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps," Özil, a Muslim of Turkish descent,posted in Turkish on social media.

"The Muslims are silent. Their voice is not heard," he wrote on a background of a blue field with a white crescent moon, the flag of what Uighur separatists call East Turkestan. 

Arsenal distances itself from Özil's comments

About 1 million Uighurs and other minorities have been detained in high-security camps, according to human-rights activists and the United Nations. 

China initially denied the camps existed but now describes them as vocational schools aimed at dampening the allure of Islamist extremism and violence.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) said Özil's comments were "unacceptable" and "hurt the feelings" of Chinese supporters.

"Özil's comments are undoubtedly hurtful to the Chinese fans who closely follow him, and at the same time his comments also hurt the feelings of Chinese people. This is something we cannot accept," government-backed news outlet The Paper reported, quoting an unnamed CFA official.

'Petulant kid'

Özil was selected for Sunday's game by caretaker Arsenal manager Freddie Ljungberg, but made little impact before being substituted about an hour into play. His slow walk to the touchline before kicking away his gloves in frustration upset some Arsenal fans and at least one TV host. 

"Özil subbed after 58 mins and responds by crawling off like a snail and throwing his gloves away like a petulant kid," commented media personality Piers Morgan. "Pathetic."

"The China thing, that is a political discussion that I leave for the club to deal with," said Ljungberg, echoing comments from Arsenal  inisting that it stayed out of politics. 

Read more: Mesut Özil breaks Ramadan fast with Erdogan  

kw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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