Barcelona’s star forward, Antoine Griezmann has cut ties with Chinese company Huawei after reports of the company being involved in developing software contributing to the surveillance and persecution of the Uighurs in China. Griezmann had been a brand ambassador for Huawei since 2007.
Citing reports that Huawei was responsible for aiding the Chinese government in developing and testing facial recognition software that alerts the police any time it spots the face of an individual from the Uighur community. “Following strong suspicions that Huawei has contributed to the development of a ‘Uighurs alert’ through the use of facial recognition software, I am immediately ending my partnership with the company,” said Griezmann in an instagram post.
Griezmann is a veritable football star, widely recognised and respected as the 29 year old played an instrumental part in the French national team’s world cup victory in 2018. And, his move to cut ties with Huawei is being widely appreciated by both human rights and Uighur activists. Jewher Ilham, Uighur activist and daughter of economist Ilham Tothi who is in jail in China, gave a statement to Al Jazeera saying she has “huge respect” for Griezmann and others like him including footballer Mesut Ozil or singer Zara Larsson who are “willing to choose their conscience over the money”. “We know how hard of a step this could be. And I’m afraid [Griezmann] may face retaliation for his action,” she said.
“I am taking this opportunity to invite Huawei to not just be happy with denying these accusations but to implement action as quickly as possible to condemn this mass persecution and use its influence to contribute to respecting rights of men and women throughout society,” Griezmann stated in his Instagram post.
A report from United States-based surveillance research firm, IPVM, revealed that Huawei had been involved in testing facial recognition software in China that could send alerts to police when it recognised the faces of Uighur people.
The Uighurs are an ethnic minority in China, and are muslim Turkic speaking people. The United Nations estimates that more than one million Turkic Muslims – most of them ethnic Uighurs – have been detained in camps in the far western province of Xinjiang.
China has been placing more than a million Uighurs in re-education camps, which the government claims is to weed out “religious extremism” in the troubled province. The Chinese government stated that these camps are vocational training centres to help the Uighurs better integrate into society.
However, activist say that Uighurs are being forcibly held in those camps and are being put through an indoctrination programme to erase their religious identity and ensure loyalty to the Chinese government.
Uighurs that have been to those camps state that they were subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture and denial of food and medicine, and say they have been prohibited from practising their religion or speaking their language.
U.S President Donald Trump, earlier this year, called for the legalisation of imposing sanctions on China for its repression of the Uighurs.