US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday denounced China for its heavy-handed actions against Arsenal over footballer Mesut Ozil’s support for incarcerated Uighurs, saying Beijing could not hide reality.
Arsenal distanced itself from Ozil but Beijing dropped state television broadcasts of the English Premier League club’s Sunday match – a move that could have major commercial ramifications in the lucrative Chinese market.
“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor @MesutOzil1088 and @Arsenal’s games all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
“The CCP can’t hide its gross #HumanRights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world,” he said.
The British government, asked about China’s treatment of Arsenal, said that it “consistently stands up for freedom of speech and expression and we urge other countries to do the same.”
“We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and have raised these regularly with the Chinese government and at the UN,” a government spokesperson said, referring to the western region of China home to the Uighurs.
The row comes shortly after China moved to punish the NBA’s Houston Rockets after its general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted his support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
Ozil, a German national of Turkish origin, tweeted that the Muslim world has been silent on the plight of the Uighurs in a message on the flag of “East Turkestan,” which Uighur separatists call Xinjiang.
“Korans are being burnt… Mosques are being shut down… Muslim schools are being banned… Religious scholars are being killed one by one… Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps,” Ozil tweeted in Turkish.
China has faced growing international condemnation for setting up a vast network of camps in Xinjiang, which critics say are aimed at homogenising the Uighur population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.
Rights groups and experts say more than one million Uighurs and people of other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been sent to the camps in the tightly controlled region.
Turkey, which shares linguistic and ethnic ties with the Uighurs, has been outspoken on the issue but most Muslim-majority countries have been muted, likely mindful of China’s commercial and diplomatic power.
But a senior US official who recently met with members of Organization of the Islamic Conference voiced hope that Muslim-majority countries would join the United States and Turkey in doing more.
“Every single one of them saw the problem,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
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