Huawei faces online storm in China over employee treatment

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - Huawei Technologies is facing a public backlash in China after details of the dismissal and wrongful detention of a former employee went viral.

FILE PHOTO: An attendee wears a badge strip with the logo of Huawei at the World 5G Exhibition in Beijing, China November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The treatment of Li Hongyuan, who had worked for the company for 13 years, has become one of the most discussed topics in recent days on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

The telecoms group that rode a wave of patriotic support last year when it was put on a trade blacklist by the United States is under growing pressure to make an apology.

“Huawei has lost love this time round,” Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of influential Chinese state tabloid Global Times, posted on Weibo.

Li’s case surfaced publicly at the end of November when court documents detailing his case were posted on Chinese social media platforms. State media outlets later reported how he was detained by police on an extortion charge for 251 days last year after asking the company for a severance payment when he was laid off.

He was later acquitted by authorities and received 100,000 yuan ($14,206.77) in state compensation.

The hashtag “former Huawei employee who was detained hopes Huawei will apologise” was viewed over 230 million times on Weibo in the subsequent days.

Huawei said it supported Li’s rights to seek a resolution through legal means, but its response has failed to quell public criticism of the firm and the topic was still trending on Tuesday.

Huawei’s statement is “impeccable from a legal standpoint” but did not respond to the public’s mood, Hu said.

Both Li and his legal representative declined to comment to Reuters. Huawei has also declined to provide further comment on the case.

Fearing Huawei’s equipment could be used by China for spying, the U.S. government has placed the telecoms equipment provider on a blacklist banning it from buying American-made parts. It has also urged its allies to bar it from their 5G networks.

U.S. hostility, however, has boosted domestic support for Huawei, which captured a record 42% of China’s smartphone market in the third quarter at the expense of local rivals like Xiaomi and Apple.

($1 = 7.0389 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Additional Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom, Writing by Brenda Goh; Editing by Christina Fincher