Mesut Ozil has “a right to express his opinion” but does not speak for Arsenal in his criticism of China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, says Arsene Wenger.
Midfielder Ozil, who is a Muslim, called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticised both China and the silence of Muslims in response.
Arsenal said the club is “apolitical” and China’s foreign ministry claimed Ozil was “deceived by fake news”.
“What he says is about himself and not Arsenal,” said ex-Gunners boss Wenger.
“Mesut Ozil has freedom of speech like everyone else and he uses his notoriety to express his opinions, which are not necessarily shared by everybody.
“What’s important is that Ozil has an individual responsibility. He doesn’t have to carry the word of Arsenal Football Club. When you make a comment about your individual opinion you accept the consequences of it.”
Rights groups say about a million people – mostly from the Muslim Uighur community – are thought to have been detained without trial in high-security prison camps.
China has consistently denied mistreating Uighur Muslims in the country and says they are being educated in “vocational training centres” to combat violent religious extremism.
Secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain Harun Khan said Ozil’s actions were “hugely commendable” and described Arsenal’s decision to distance themselves from the 31-year-old German’s views as “regrettable”.
‘Human rights are important and Fifa is conscious of that’
Wenger, now world governing body Fifa’s chief of global football development, was speaking in Doha, before the Club World Cup semi-final between Mexican side Monterrey and Liverpool.
Concerns have been expressed about Qatar hosting the event, as well as the 2022 World Cup, because of its stance on homosexuality and immigrant workers’ rights, among other issues.
According to a report by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) in 2013, more than 1,200 workers from Nepal and India had died on construction projects in the country linked to the World Cup, including non-football infrastructure schemes, in the previous three years.
The ITUC said at the time that if deaths continued at that rate then they could reach 4,000 – although it has now dropped its complaints against Qatar following improvements in workers’ rights in the country.
Qatar has always disputed those figures, saying the deaths cannot be linked directly to the World Cup.
In February, Amnesty International said that although progress has been made, Qatar “must step up efforts to honour labour rights promises” before the tournament begins.
Wenger says the situation in the country “has improved tremendously” because of the World Cup, adding: “Human rights are important and Fifa is very conscious of that.
“There are two possible attitudes: keep out of it or use the power you have to improve things. That’s what Fifa tried to do.”
‘Arteta has a great future’
Frenchman Wenger landed the role with Fifa – his first job in football since leaving Arsenal after a near 22-year reign in May 2018 – in November.
After he stepped down as Gunners boss, Unai Emery was at the helm for 18 months before being sacked and the club are now searching for a new manager, with Freddie Ljungberg in temporary charge.
Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta has spoken with senior Arsenal figures and Wenger thinks the Spaniard is a good choice – as long as he has the right support.
“He’s intelligent, he has passion and knowledge – but so does Ljungberg,” said Wenger, who managed both former midfielders at Arsenal. “Mikel Arteta has a great future. He learned a lot in his position as assistant coach.
“He will have to deal with the fact that he has no experience at that level. He will have to be surrounded by a good environment at the club.”