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Sonny Bill Williams: Rugby star latest to criticise China over Uighurs

BBC News

One of the world’s best-known rugby players has become the latest sports star to criticise China for its treatment of the Muslim Uighur population.

In a Twitter post, Sonny Bill Williams also criticised others for choosing “economic benefits over humanity”.

Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil recently spoke out on the issue.

China has been accused of a “mass internment” of one million Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Williams, a Muslim convert from New Zealand, posted an image showing a hand painted with the Chinese flag twisting an arm painted with the flag of East Turkestan – the term used by separatists to refer to Xinjiang.

The East Turkestan arm is dripping with blood.

Williams, who recently signed for rugby league side Toronto Wolfpack, has achieved huge success in both codes of the game – league and union.

He also had a short but successful career in professional boxing.

His statement echoes comments made by Arsenal footballer Ozil who criticised both China – and people who stayed silent.

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“Korans are being burnt… Mosques are being shut down… Muslims schools are being banned… Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps,” the Muslim player tweeted in Turkish, to a background of the East Turkestan flag.

“The Muslims are silent. Their voice is not heard.”

China responded furiously, with state television pulling an Arsenal match from TV schedules.

Ozil was also removed from a Chinese version of the Pro Evolution Soccer video game.

A foreign ministry spokesman said he was “deceived by fake news”, and invited him to visit the region to “have a look” for himself.

After Ozil’s comments, UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Instagram account included a post about the history of Uighurs – but the post seems to have been taken down.

More than 20 countries, including Britain, signed a letter earlier in July condemning China’s repression of Uighur Muslims.

The US House of Representatives has also passed a bill to counter what it calls the “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment” of Uighurs.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate and US President Donald Trump.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims who live in western China – predominantly in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. They make up under half of the region’s roughly 26 million people.

In 2018, a UN rights committee was told there were credible allegations that China had “turned the region into something that resembles a massive internment camp”.

Rights groups say those in camps are made to learn Mandarin Chinese, swear their loyalty to Chinese president Xi Jinping, and even renounce their faith in some instances.

Leaked documents seen by the BBC showed that inmates were locked up, indoctrinated and punished.

But the Chinese government says these camps are voluntary, and that they offer education and training to counter extremism.


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