Toronto Wolfpack star Sonny Bill Williams has spoken publicly about China’s mistreatment of the Uighurs, telling Sky News he is “only embarrassed I don’t speak up enough.”
Williams, who converted to Islam 10 years ago while playing for Toulon in France, told Sky News he had been a longtime and vocal supporter “of our brothers and sisters in China.”
“They are in the detention camps over there and facing disgusting injustices,” he continued. “For myself, I just speak my truth. Sometimes I get it wrong but in this instance I definitely know I’m not…
“Sometimes you can speak your truth, whether that can get you offside with people or not. But I’ve always been one to stand up, not just for myself, but for what I feel is right – and in that situation, that’s all it was.”
Williams is a two-time Rugby Union World Cup winner with the New Zealand All Blacks, but after switching to Rugby League he will spend half the season in Toronto and half in Manchester.
In December, he posted an image on social media of a hand with the Chinese flag gripping on to a bloody arm representing East Turkmenistan, the former name of China’s Xinjiang province.
Below the picture, Williams wrote: “It’s a sad time when we choose economic benefits over humanity.”
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It was an open condemnation of the detention of more than a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province in what China says are “anti-extremist re-education centres.”
Williams isn’t the first sports star to publicly condemn China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil also tweeted his criticism. The country reacted by taking Arsenal matches off state television and deleting Ozil from video games.
But Williams said he wouldn’t be deterred by a potential backlash.
“You think you know what is hard, what is pressure, what are tough situations,” he said. “But then, take yourself out from where you are. We wake up everyday and we can do what we want. But there’s people around the world that can’t even eat, that have to watch out for bombs being dropped on their heads.”
Williams continued: “When it comes to that situation of being able to speak up as sportsman, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I don’t speak up enough.
“That’s not just as a Muslim, but that’s as a human as well. You know, there’s many atrocities going on around the world that you know you can’t even fathom. So here we are, and we are just trying our best.”