Barcelona’s World Cup-winning footballer Antoine Griezmann said Thursday he was ending a commercial deal with Huawei over reports the Chinese telecoms giant was involved in the surveillance of Uighur Muslims.
Frenchman Griezmann said on Instagram that 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.”
He called on Huawei to “not just deny these accusations but to take concrete action as quickly as possible to condemn this mass repression… and to use its influence to contribute to the respect of human rights”.
US-based surveillance research firm IPVM said in a report Tuesday that Huawei had been involved in testing facial recognition software in China that could send alerts to police when it recognised Uighur minorities’ faces.
Huawei, earlier this year became the world’s top mobile phone seller, denied the claims.
“We do not develop algorithms, nor applications in the field of facial recognition or solutions targeting ethnic groups,” Huawei told AFP.
“Our products and solutions comply with industry standards and current regulations. Huawei fully and strictly adheres to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and complies with laws in the 170 countries where it operates.”
Human Rights Watch says Uighurs in Xinjiang are being arrested after being reported by software that identifies suspicious behaviour.
Surveillance spending in Xinjiang has risen sharply in recent years, with facial recognition, iris scanners, DNA collection, and artificial intelligence deployed across the province in the name of preventing terrorism.
China has come under intense international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, where rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in internment camps.
China defends the camps as vocational training centres aimed at stamping out terrorism and improving employment opportunities.
– Making voices heard –
Griezmann, a 29-year-old forward who was a key part of the France team that reached the final of Euro 2016 and then won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
He has been a Huawei brand ambassador since 2017 and has featured prominently in a giant advertising campaign for the company in France.
Griezmann made his name with Real Sociedad in Spain before moving to Atletico Madrid in 2014.
He joined Barcelona in a 120-million-euro ($145.5 million) deal in 2019 and is expected to be part of the French squad for next year’s European championships.
His decision to end his Huawei contract comes at a time when French sports figures, especially high-profile footballers, are increasingly making their voice heard on social and political issues.
In posts on his social media accounts last month, Griezmann expressed his concern at a video showing French policemen beating a music producer.
The video was one of the factors that led President Emmanuel Macron to declare that there is an “urgent need” to reform the police.
Griezmann previously suggested teams should walk off the field when faced with homophobic abuse from the stands, saying that “homophobia is a crime, not an opinion” in a May 2019 interview with French LGBT magazine Tetu.
On Wednesday, the Paris Saint-Germain team, containing Griezmann’s World Cup teammate Kylian Mbappe, walked off the pitch with their opponents from Istanbul Basaksehir in protest at the allegedly racist language used by a match official in a Champions League game.