Williams forms scrum with Ozil to criticise China

WELLINGTON • Rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams yesterday followed the lead of Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, issuing a message of support for China's Uighur Muslim ethnic minority.

The New Zealander joined Canada-based Super League club Toronto Wolfpack last month on a two-year £2.6 million (S$4.56 million) deal, making him the sport's highest-paid player.

The former All Black converted to Islam in 2009 and has used his social media platforms to speak out on several social issues, including racism and equality. He yesterday suggested greater pressure should be placed by countries on China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims.

"Its a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity #Uyghurs," he tweeted, along with an image depicting a hand representing the Chinese flag squeezing blood from another hand which showed the flag of East Turkestan - the term used by separatists to refer to Xinjiang province.

The post received more than 14,000 likes and almost 10,000 retweets by press time.

Ozil created controversy last week when he used his social media accounts to condemn the treatment of Uighurs, whom he hailed as "warriors who resist persecution", and the silence of Muslims worldwide in response to the Chinese crackdown. The posts led to CCTV refusing to show Arsenal's 3-0 defeat by Manchester City on Dec 15, while the German was removed from the Chinese versions of Fifa and the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video games.

China's foreign ministry also labelled Ozil as being "deceived by fake news", while Weibo was flooded with angry messages directed at the 31-year-old.

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between one and two million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign. Beijing has repeatedly denied any mistreatment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2019, with the headline 'Williams forms scrum with Ozil to criticise China'. Print Edition | Subscribe