The footballer cited reports that the Chinese telecommunications giant was involved in monitoring Uyghur Muslims.
Barcelona footballer and French national team member Antoine Griezmann has announced that he is severing ties with Chinese tech giant Huawei because of the continued persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.
Griezmann cited reports of Huawei’s involvement in monitoring Uyghur Muslims as a reason to end his contract as a brand ambassador with them on Thursday.
“Following strong suspicions that Huawei contributed to the development of a ‘Uyghur Alert’ through the use of facial recognition software, I am immediately terminating my partnership with the company,” Griezmann said in an Instagram post.
“I take this opportunity to call on Huawei not to just deny these accusations, but to take action as quickly as possible to condemn this mass persecution and use its influence to contribute to respect for the rights of men and women. women in all of society, ”he added. .
The United Nations estimates that more than a million Turkish Muslims – most of them ethnic Uyghurs – have been held in camps in the far western province of Xinjiang.
Griezmann’s statement comes after US-based surveillance research firm IPVM said in a report on Tuesday that Huawei had been involved in testing facial recognition software in China that could send alerts to the police when they recognize the faces of Uyghur people.
Griezmann, a 29-year-old striker who was a key member of the France squad that won the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has been a Huawei brand ambassador since 2017.
Simon Chadwick, professor at Eurasian Sports Industry, told Al Jazeera that – in terms of athletes ending sponsorship deals with Chinese companies – “it’s pretty unprecedented.”
“What Griezmann did was he not only spoke but also acted,” he added.
Chadwick noted that the move was “very significant” since China was a lucrative source of commerce, “not just for individual athletes, but for European clubs in general”.
Conscience rather than money
Uyghur activist Jewer Ilham told Al Jazeera of Washington, DC that she has “immense respect” for Griezmann and others who have spoken out in favor of Uyghurs, such as footballer Mesut Ozil and singer Zara Larsson, of people who she says are “willing to choose their conscience.” on the money ”.
“We know how difficult it could be. And I’m scared [Griezmann] may face retaliation for its action, ”she said.
Ilham is the daughter of Uyghur economist Ilham Tothi who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 on charges of separatism and was imprisoned in china.
Activists claim that the detention camps aim to erase the ethnic and religious identities of Turkish Muslims and ensure their loyalty to the Chinese government.
Beijing denies the charges, describing the camps as vocational training centers to help eradicate “religious extremism” in the ailing province.
People in the camps described being subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture and denial of food and medicine, and said they were prohibited from practicing their religion or speaking their language.
Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump signed a law calling for sanctions against China for the suppression of Uyghurs.