China’s Foreign Ministry says that Arsenal star Mesut Ozil has been "completely deceived by fake news and false statements” after the German midfielder criticised the country's alleged role in the plight of Uighur Muslims.
Ozil spoke out against the reported religious and ethnic persecution of minority groups in the Asian country, stating on social media: “East Turkistan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion.
“They burn their Qurans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men.
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“The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men.
“But Muslims are silent. They won’t make a noise. They have abandoned them. Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”
China has denied all accusations of mistreatment when it comes to Uighurs, although the United Nations alleges that between 1 million and 2 million people, largely Uighur Muslims, have been detained in Xinjiang as part of an anti-terrorist campaign.
Arsenal quickly distanced themselves from Ozil's comments, stating that the Gunners have "always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics".
But that wasn't enough to prevent the removal of the club's match against Manchester City by China’s state broadcaster CCTV from Sunday's television schedule.
And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said that Ozil has been misled while welcoming the Arsenal star to China to see for himself.
“I don’t know if Mr. Ozil has ever been to Xinjiang personally but he’s been completely deceived by fake news and false statements have influenced his judgement," Shuang said.
“We also welcome Mr. Ozil to come to Xinjiang if he has the chance, to take a walk and look around, as long as he has a conscience, is able to distinguish right from wrong and uphold the principles of objectivity and fairness, he will see a different Xinjiang,” he added.
Ozil has sparked political controversy before, as the midfielder was widely criticised ahead of the 2018 World Cup for declaring his support for Turkey’s president Recap Tayyip Erdogan, who was the best man at his wedding over the summer.
The Arsenal playmaker has made eight Premier League appearances this season, including a start in Sunday's 3-0 loss to Manchester City.