Professional footballer Antoine Griezmann, who plays as a forward for FC Barcelona and France’s national team, has severed ties with sponsor Huawei following reports that the Chinese telecoms company was involved in the surveillance of Uighur Muslims.
Earlier this week, US-based surveillance research firm IPVM claimed that Huawei tested facial recognition software that could scan faces in a crowd and send automated “Uighur alarms” to government authorities when it identified members of the oppressed ethnic group. Those allegations were published by The Washington Post on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Griezmann—who has been a Huawei brand ambassador since 2017—took to social media to announce that he was terminating his sponsorship contract with the telecoms giant, calling on them to denounce the repression of Uighurs in China.
“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 wrote. “I seize the occasion to invite Huawei not only to deny these accusations, but to take specific actions as soon as possible to condemn this massive repression and use its influence to contribute to the respect of human rights.”
Griezmann is not the first professional footballer to openly condemn China’s treatment of Uighurs, which has led to an estimated 1 million members of the Turkic Muslim minority being put into extrajudicial detention in the country’s western Xinjiang region.
Last year, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil similarly took to Instagram to criticise China and call out Muslim countries around the world for failing to speak out against the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
“Don’t they know that staying neutral when persecution is carried out is despicable?” he wrote. “Don’t they know that what our brothers and sisters will remember about these sad/tough days years later is not the torture of the tyrant, but the silence of us, their Muslim brothers?”
“O Allah, help our brothers and sisters in East Turkestan.”
In response to Griezmann’s public renunciation of his ties to Huawei, a spokesperson for the telecoms company told the BBC: “We would like to extend an invitation to speak to him personally, to explain the work that is currently being done at the highest level, inside the company, to address the issues of human rights, equality, and discrimination at all levels.”
“Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups,” the spokesperson further said. “Non-discrimination is at the heart of our values as a company."
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