The head of communications for Huawei in Denmark has resigned over the Chinese company’s role in testing surveillance tools capable of tracking China’s Muslims.
Tommy Zwicky, vice president of communications at Huawei Denmark, confirmed to VICE World News on Wednesday that he “left because of how the Uighur case was handled.”
His resignation followed a report by U.S.-based surveillance research firm IPVM that the Chinese technology giant tested facial recognition software that could identify the faces of the Uighur minority from a crowd and send automated “Uighur alarms” to the authorities. The Washington Post, which partnered with IPVM, published these allegations on Wednesday last week.
China has detained an estimated one million members of the mostly Muslim minority in its far-western region of Xinjiang, using advanced technology such as artificial intelligence to carry out predictive policing ostensibly to fight terrorism and extremism. The campaign has drawn condemnation from human rights watchdogs and democracies around the world.
Huawei’s alleged involvement in developing tools to aid the surveillance of Uighurs prompted the French soccer star Antoine Griezmann, who plays for FC Barcelona, to sever his sponsorship contract with Huawei in protest.
Asked on Tuesday how he would explain these reports by a Danish journalist on Twitter, Zwicky said, “I can’t, therefore I have resigned,” according to a screenshot of the exchange posted by the reporter, Henrik Moltke, who covers technology at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
Zwicky has since deleted the tweet. He declined to elaborate on his departure until his contract ends in February.
The IPVM report is based on a 2018 internal document summarizing how Huawei tested facial recognition technology by the Chinese artificial intelligence company Megvii with a “Uighur alarm” feature, as well as the ability to identify someone’s ethnicity, gender and age.
In 2019, the U.S. government put Megvii among 28 Chinese public security entities and companies on a trade blacklist over Beijing’s suppression of Uighurs.
Without addressing the specific claims in IPVM’s report, Megvii said its “business is focused on the well-being and safety of individuals, not about monitoring any particular demographic groups,” according to IPVM.
Huawei has said that the test was “simply a test” and had not been implemented in real-life applications. The company told BBC that “the language used in the document” was “completely unacceptable,” and that its technologies were “not designed to identify ethnic groups.”
On Sunday, the Washington Post published a second article about Huawei’s advertisement of products that have ethnicity-tracking capabilities, citing marketing materials on Huawei’s website. Huawei told the Post that it was investigating the issues raised in the article.
Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zwicky’s resignation coincided with an announcement by his counterpart in the United Kingdom on Tuesday that he would resign.
Edward Brewster, the communications director of Huawei in the U.K., said he had decided to leave the company next month. He said he was relocating to New Zealand with his family.
In a statement posted on LinkedIn, Brewster did not mention Huawei’s alleged involvement with China’s suppression of Uighurs.
A former journalist, Zwicky joined Huawei Denmark in July and has worked for the company for six months before publicizing his departure this week.