United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo has backed Arsenal star Mesut Ozil in his row with China over the country's persecution of Uighur Muslims.
Ozil spoke out on social media over the weekend about China's treatment of the Uighur people, who have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang.
“The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men. The women are forced to marry Chinese men," Ozil said.
“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 any wrongdoing in what it calls an antiterrorism campaign, but the United Nations alleges that between 1 million and 2 million people, largely Uighur Muslims, have been detained.
On Monday, China hit out at Ozil's post, saying that the German has been "completely deceived by fake news and false statements."
“We also welcome Mr. Ozil to come to Xinjiang if he has the chance, to take a walk and look around, as long as he has a conscience, is able to distinguish right from wrong and uphold the principles of objectivity and fairness, he will see a different Xinjiang,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
China also retaliated against Ozil and Arsenal by removing the club's match against Manchester City on Sunday from China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
On Tuesday, however, Pompeo voiced his support of Ozil on social media.
“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Ozil and Arsenal’s game all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo tweeted.
“The CCP can’t hide its gross human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.”
China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor @MesutOzil1088 and @Arsenal’s games all season long, but the truth will prevail. The CCP can’t hide its gross #HumanRights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 17, 2019
As the controversy emerged over the weekend, Arsenal insisted that it would not take sides in any conflict between Ozil and China.
“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Ozil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement," the Gunners said on Weibo, China’s most popular social media site:
“The content published is Ozil's personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”