Arsenal Mesut Özil Removed From PES 2020 After Criticizing China
Arsenal football star Mesut Özil has been removed from the hit game PES 2020 Mobile in China after he criticized the country’s treatment of ethnic Uygur Muslims in the country’s western Xinjiang region. Upwards of 1 million Uygurs have been detained in internment camps in the region. The Guardian reports he posted an Instagram message with the East Turkestan republic flag in the background a region now known as the China-controlled Xinjiang province describing Uighur Muslims in the area as “warriors who resist persecution.”
The tweet sparked a backlash among Chinese Arsenal fans, and Arsenal’s predictable effort to distance itself from its player—”As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics”—failed to calm the outrage. Angry comments were posted, jerseys were burned, and China’s state broadcaster canceled a planned airing of a game between Arsenal and Manchester City.
Now the backlash has also spread to videogames, as Ozil has reportedly been cut from PES 2020 in China. According to the BBC, publisher Netease has removed Ozil from all three editions of the game available in China, saying in a statement that his comments “hurt the feelings of Chinese fans and violated the sport’s spirit of love and peace. We do not understand, accept or forgive this.”
Earlier this year, 23 nations including the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, and Japan issued a joint statement at the United Nations condemning the Chinese government’s detention and mistreatment of Uighurs and other Muslims in camps in the Xinjiang province. Shortly after that, Belarus issued a statement on behalf of 54 nations, including Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, and Serbia, in support of China’s “counter-terrorism” program, describing the detention camps as “vocational education and training centers.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came out in explicit support of Ozil, saying on Twitter that “the truth will prevail.”
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
The reaction to Ozil’s criticism reflects an increased willingness by China’s game industry to flex its muscles in support of the government, as seen previously in response to expressions of support for Hong Kong from Hearthstone grandmaster Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
In a statement, the publisher said: “The German player Özil posted an extreme statement about China on social media. The speech hurt the feelings of Chinese fans and violated the sports spirit of love and peace. We do not understand, accept or forgive this.”
It’s not clear whether this has affected Western versions of PES. GamesIndustry.biz has reached out to Konami for clarification. China’s foreign ministry said the footballer had been “deceived by fake news.”
Human rights groups maintain that Uighur Muslims are being mistreated, forced to swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and are even being detained without trial in high-security prison camps. China has frequently denied this, claiming Muslims in the region are being educated in “vocational training centres” in an effort to counter violent religious extremism.
Somewhat oddly, given his apparent support for human rights, Ozil is also a known supporter of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime on the nation since becoming president in 2014 and recently launched an ethnic cleansing campaign of his own against Kurds in Syria. Erdogan actually served as a witness at Ozil’s wedding earlier this year; Helge Braun, chief of staff of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Ozil is German), said Erdogan’s presence as a witness “makes one sad.”
A Konami rep declined to comment on Ozil’s removal from PES 2020 in China.