China's state broadcaster CCTV removed a Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Manchester City from its schedule on Sunday after soccer star Mesut Özil criticized the country's views toward Muslim residents on social media.
Özil, a member of the English soccer club Arsenal, spoke out on Twitter and Instagram against China's alleged persecution of the Uighur population while criticizing Muslims for not doing enough to shed light on the issue.
“East Turkistan, the bleeding wound of the Ummah, resisting against the persecutors trying to separate them from their religion. They burn their Korans. They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men," he said on Instagram.
He added: “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 its mistreatment of Muslims, while the United Nations and human rights groups estimate about a million people from the Uighur community have been detained without trial at security prison camps in the country. China says the Muslims are being trained in "vocational training centers" to combat violent religious extremism. Beijing says the detained people are part of its anti-terrorism campaign, according to the Guardian.
Following his comments, both Arsenal and the Chinese Football Association responded by commenting and distancing themselves from the outspoken player.
Arsenal described itself as "always apolitical as an organization." The Chinese Football Association said his comments were "unacceptable" and "hurt the feelings" of Chinese fans, according to the outlet.
“The content he expressed is entirely Özil’s personal opinion,” the official account of Arsenal said in a post on Weibo. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.”
Arsenal's post on Weibo was met with angry fan backlash toward the soccer star.
One fan was seen showing a shredded Ozil jersey next to a pair of scissors. Others demanded he should be removed from the club, according to the Guardian.
“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," an unnamed official said, according to a state-backed news outlet.
The controversy comes just months after the NBA faced serious backlash from China after Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey showed support for protesters fighting for their freedom in Hong Kong.
A match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers was scheduled to be shown instead.