Demba Ba Advocates for Uighur Muslims in China

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Demba Ba, a former West Ham United, Chelsea, and Newcastle United player has urged footballers to stand up against the maltreatment Uighur Muslims are suffering in the hands of the Chinese government.

The 35-year-old Senegalese striker who now plays for Turkish club Basaksehir urged the football world to pay attention to the suffering of the Uighur people just like how so much attention is being paid to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Uigurs are a Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The Uigurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uigurs Autonomous Region in Northwest China.

The Muslims who are from this ethnic group are reportedly subjected to oppression, unjust incarceration, discrimination, and being prevented from practicing their faith freely by the Chinese government.

According to reports, over a million people from this ethnic group are currently left to rotten in secret prisons in China; and the children from the ethnic group are separated from their parents and kept in hidden camps across China.

Cross-section of the Uighur Muslims in Chinese custody.
Cross-section of the Uighur Muslims in Chinese custody.

Demba Ba who has played for a Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua for three seasons before he left for Turkey said he was not prevented from practicing his religion as a Muslim but no one was allowed to talk about the plight of Uighur Muslims in the country. Hence, he urged football players to stand up for the ethnic group.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is stronger when non-black people step up for it,” Demba Ba told BBC Sport. “When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?

“I have to try and organize something so football players can get together and, in the meantime, talk about this matter because not a lot of people want to.

“I know there are footballers who want to fight for justice, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, any belief.

“As sportspeople, we have a power we don’t even know. If we get together and talk, things change. If we stand up, people stand up with us.”

Demba Ba Wants Premier League involvement in the liberation of Uighur Muslims

Demba Ba Wants Premier League involvement in the liberation of Uighur Muslims
Demba Ba

Though the Premier League had said players are free to publicly show their support for racial justice, yet, the league might find it difficult to get involved in fighting for justice for the Uighur Muslims as much as they have been doing in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Recall that teams were allowed to take a knee before a match in the Premier League and the names of players on jerseys were replaced with Black Lives Matter in solidarity with the movement especially after a white police officer murdered an African-American, George Floyd, in broad daylight in the United States.

But the Premier League would find it almost impossible to do the same in solidarity with the Uighur Muslims in China. This is so because China remained the league’s largest television rights owner outside England. The Premier League earns at least £564 million in broadcasting revenue from China alone in a three-year deal which started in 2019.

Hence, the last time a Premier League player and Arsenal’s embattled star, Mesut Ozil publicly spoke out against the plight of the Uighur Muslims, Arsenal distanced themselves from Ozil’s agitation in order to protect their business interests in China.

Still, Chinese state television removed Arsenal’s match against Manchester City from their broadcasting schedule as a form of punishment for the Premier League club.

“If there was a financial risk to Black Lives Matter, it would not have happened,” Demba Ba noted. “Arsenal talked about Black Lives Matter but when it was about Uighur lives Arsenal didn’t want to talk about it because of the pressure and economic impact.

“When there are financial benefits, some people close their eyes. Money has more value than real values. “I think clubs put a lot of pressure on players not to get involved but how can you not when you see the injustice with your own eyes?”