SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday removed Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule following Mesut Ozil’s messages that criticised the country’s policy towards its Muslim Uighur minority.
The Global Times Newspaper said on its Twitter account on Sunday that CCTV took the decision after midfielder Ozil’s comments on Saturday had “disappointed fans and football governing authorities”.
Ozil’s posts called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China’s crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response.
“(In China) Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” Ozil, who is a Muslim, said in his posts.
An Arsenal spokesman told Reuters that they had no official statement on the issue after CCTV’s decision to show a taped game between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers instead of the originally planned fixture.
CCTV did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Arsenal on Saturday tried to distance itself from Ozil’s comments after he posted messages on Twitter and Instagram.
“The content he expressed is entirely Ozil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.
“As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
The club’s Twitter account did not have a post addressing Ozil’s comments as of Sunday morning.
Replies to Arsenal’s Weibo post were angry, with one showing a shredded Ozil soccer jersey next to a pair of scissors and others demanding he be expelled from the club.
A search on Weibo for the hashtag translatable as “Ozil issues inappropriate statement”, which had been one of the top trending topics on the platform, returned no results on Saturday afternoon.
Weibo frequently censors discussion of sensitive topics, particularly amid a push by Beijing to clean up its internet.
The Chinese Football Association told government-backed news outlet, The Paper, on Saturday it was “outraged and disappointed” by Ozil’s remarks, describing them as “inappropriate”.
“Ozil’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,” the news outlet quoted an unnamed official from the association as saying.
The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.
China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.
Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Vincent Lee in Beijing and Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Lincoln Feast and Christian Radnedge