BARCELONA- France and Barcelona footballer Antoine Griezmann, who has been an ambassador for tech giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, has cut commercial ties with the company, citing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
“I announce that I am putting an end immediately to my partnership linking me with this company,” Griezmann, a 2018 World Cup winner with France, wrote in a statement on Instagram on Thursday.
A Huawei spokesperson said the Chinese company was saddened by Griezmann’s decision.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
The United Nations estimates that more than a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in China’s Xinjiang province. China has denied any abuses and says its camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight extremism.
The striker’s decision followed a report here in the Washington Post on Dec. 8 that alleged that Huawei had tested software capable of sending automated alerts when surveillance cameras recognised members of the mainly Muslim minority Uighur group.
The article cited a document that it said was signed by Huawei representatives showing that Huawei had worked with a startup called Megvii to test artificial intelligence capable of triggering an automated “Uighur alarm”.
Commenting on the report on Thursday, Huawei described the language used in the document as “completely unacceptable”, adding however that it was a description of functions provided by Megvii, while the document was approved not by Huawei, but by a subcontractor.
“It is not compatible with the values of Huawei,” the spokesperson said. “Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups. Non-discrimination is at the heart of our values as a company.”
The Washington Post cited Megvii in a response to its original story as saying its systems were not designed to target or label ethnic groups.
Griezmann had been an ambassador for Huawei since 2017, and he also worked with the company while at former club Atletico Madrid, including presenting an Atletico-branded mobile phone in 2016.
His Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi became a Huawei ambassador earlier this year.
Barcelona declined to comment on Griezmann’s decision.
A year ago, Arsenal and former Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil criticized China’s treatment of the Uighurs.
There was a strong backlash in China against Ozil, a German Muslim of Turkish origin, and he was removed from the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 computer game in China.
The Chinese foreign ministry condemned his comments and state broadcaster CCTV dropped Arsenal’s Premier League game with Manchester City from its schedule.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Additional reporting by Douglas Busvine in Berlin; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry