Huawei draws ire after ex-employee wrongly detained for 251 days

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Huawei China tech
The outside of one of Huawei’s buildings on July 30, 2019, in Shenzhen. (Image credit: TechNode/Shi Jiayi)

Huawei has come under fire on Chinese social media after a former employee of the embattled Chinese telecom giant was wrongly detained for 251 days, relating to severance pay from last year.

Why it matters: Weibo users expressed anger at Huawei’s treatment of the former employee, reversing some of the firm’s positive sentiment generated online following its US blacklisting.

  • The Shenzhen-based company’s smartphone shipments surged in the past two quarters, which analysts said was driven by patriotic fervor.

Details: Shenzhen authorities detained Li Hongyuan, a former Huawei employee of more than 12 years, last December before his official arrest in January for alleged blackmailing and extortion, according to a procuratorate filing circulating on Chinese social media.

  • Li confirmed to Chinese outlet Jiemian News (link no longer active) on Monday the credibility of the file and claimed that he didn’t put it out on purpose.
  • Li expressed a wish to meet Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei personally to talk about the matter.
  • The news sparked outcry on Weibo, with many users asking Huawei to apologize.
  • The hashtag #HuaweiExEmployee drew 280 million views and 260,000 posts at the time of publication.
  • A Huawei representative declined to comment when contacted by TechNode on Monday.

Brief timeline:

  • January 2018: Li resigned from the company but there was an ongoing dispute over his severance pay.
  • March 2018: A Huawei human resource (HR) manager surnamed Zhou remitted RMB 304,743 ($43,272) to Li via his own bank account, according to the filing.
  • December 2018: Li was detained by Shenzhen police. Huawei reported the case beforehand, according to Li. Law enforcement told him his charge was embezzlement, which later changed to the leaking of trade secrets.
  • January 2019: Li was officially arrested under orders from the Shenzhen procuratorate.
  • April 2019: A prosecutor told Li his arrest was for blackmail and extortion, citing a Huawei HR manager surnamed He.
  • August 2019: Li walked free after the prosecutors dropped the case due to “insufficient proof.”
  • November 2019: The procuratorate decided to pay Li compensatory payments totaling RMB 107,522 and send letters to Li’s father’s company and Huawei for vindication purposes.
  • December 2019: The procuratorate filing circulated on social media.

Context: Chinese tech companies have been drawing the ire of China’s netizens for their harsh employee treatment this year.

  • Last month, Chinese gaming company NetEase received widespread condemnation on social media for laying off an employee with a serious heart condition who claimed that he was fired without cause.
  • In March, a group of Chinese developers protested online against tech firms’ “996” work schedule, which requires employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

Note: This article has been updated to provide clarity on the timeline of events.