London (dpa) – Premier League club Arsenal said on Saturday that comments by their midfielder, the former German national player Mesut Oezil, regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China were his personal comments alone.
In a statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo, Arsenal said it adheres to the principle that they as a club should stay out of politics.
Germany World Cup winner Oezil, born in Germany to Turkish parents and a practising Muslim, published comments on Twitter and Instagram on Friday discussing the plight of Turkic-speaking Uighur Muslims.
Human rights groups and the US government have accused China of engaging in mass internment and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. More than 1 million people have allegedly been detained for so-called re-education.
Oezil called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and questioned why Muslim countries have not been more vocal in protesting.
China has defended its campaign against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, with the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference saying that the camps are “vocational education and training schools” to combat violent religious extremism.
Professional sports teams are increasingly wary of making any public comments critical of the Chinese government.
In October, the NBA lost sponsorship deals when the manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, issued his support on Twitter for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.