China has removed Mesut Özil from the country’s version of the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video game after the Arsenal midfielder criticized Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Özil, who is a Turkish-German Muslim, called the Uighur minority "warriors who resist persecution" in a Twitter post on Friday. He also criticized Muslims who stay silent on the issue.
China initially responded by pulling a scheduled broadcast of an Arsenal-Manchester City match but has now taken its reaction a step further.
NetEase, which publishes PES in China, said Özil had been cut from three existing titles in the country due to an “extreme statement about China” made by the former Germany player.
It said in a statement that Özil had “hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.” “We do not understand, accept or forgive this,” it said.
The Chinese Football Association also issued a statement saying Özil had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” but censored the content of the Twitter post so readers in China could not learn the cause of their hurt feelings. The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed Özil had been “blindfolded by fake news.”
However, investigations by international organizations and rights groups have found the situation in Xinjiang to be far from “fake.” In a report last September, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of carrying out a "systematic campaign of human rights violations" against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
According to U.S. officials and U.N. experts, up to 1 million people, or about 7% of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps.
The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45% of Xinjiang's population, has long accused China's authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.