French soccer star Antoine Griezmann says he is ending his sponsorship deal with Huawei over claims that the Chinese telecoms giant is involved in the surveillance of mainly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
"Following strong suspicions that Huawei has contributed to the development of a 'Uyghurs alert' through the use of facial recognition software, I am immediately ending my partnership with the company," Griezmann said on Instagram on December 10.
Locked Up In China: The Plight Of Xinjiang's Muslims
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is partnering with its sister organization, Radio Free Asia, to highlight the plight of Muslims living in China's western province of Xinjiang.
Huawei denied the allegations and said it was "saddened" by the player’s decision.
Griezmann has been a brand ambassador for the firm since 2017 and has featured prominently in the company's advertising in France.
The 29-year-old forward was a key part of the French national team that reached the final of Euro 2016 and then won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
He joined FC Barcelona last year and is expected to be part of the French squad for the 2021 European championships.
The striker's announcement came as Beijing has come under intense international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, where the UN has estimated that at least 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim indigenous people have been detained in what it described as "counterextremism centers" in the region.
The UN has also said that millions more have been forced into internment camps, though Beijing insists that the facilities are "vocational education centers" aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing them to be reintegrated into society.
On December 8, the U.S.-based surveillance research firm IPVM said that Huawei has been involved in testing facial recognition software that the Chinese authorities could use to detect Uyghurs.
IPVM cited an internal Huawei report dated 2018 showing the software as passing tests for "Uyghur alarms" and "recognition based on age, sex, ethnicity, angle of facial images."
A Huawei spokesperson said that "the language used in the document" referred to in the report was "completely unacceptable.”
"Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups. Nondiscrimination is at the heart of our values as a company," the spokesperson said.
China's Foreign Ministry called IPVM’s report "slander.”
Griezmann is not the first international soccer star to make a stand over China’s treatment of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs.
Arsenal and former Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil, who is of Turkish origin, has criticized both Beijing and those who remain silent in response to the reports of mistreatment.
China’s state television later pulled an Arsenal fixture from TV schedules, and Ozil was also removed from a Chinese version of a soccer video game.