China’s state broadcaster CCTV pulled Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its schedule after German midfielder Mesut Ozil spoke out against the country’s policy toward its Muslim Uighur minority. CCTV said that Ozil, who is Muslim, “disappointed fans and football governing authorities,” according to the Global Times newspaper. “(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 said in posts on China’s Twitter-equivalent, dubbed Weibo, which is known to censor content of sensitive nature. His posts were outrage-inciting for some—one user replied with an image of a shredded Ozil soccer jersey and another demanded his expulsion.
Ozil further defended Uighurs as “warriors who resist persecution.” Arsenal Football Club distanced itself from the player and said that his comments are entirely his “personal opinion,” adding, “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of not being involved in politics.” According to the United Nations and human rights groups, between one and two million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, have been targeted and arrested in Xinjiang, which China has repeatedly denied. The Chinese Football Association told China’s news outlet, The Paper, that it was “outraged and disappointed” by Ozil’s comments and called them “inappropriate.”