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Huawei slammed for treatment of former employee

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Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng. Huawei CEO Rén Zhèngfēi 任正非 got egg on his face after a former employee went public with claims of mistreatment.

985, 996, 251, 404. Just random numbers? Not quite. They’re what internet users posted — before they were deleted — in the comment section of an open letter penned by Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟, the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, about her arrest in Canada.

Li Yuan at the New York Times (porous paywall) says the numbers were “slyly referring to a former Huawei employee who graduated from one of the country’s top universities in a program code-named 985, worked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week and was jailed for 251 days after he demanded severance pay when his contract wasn’t renewed.”

  • That employee is Lǐ Hóngyuán 李洪元, a 13-year Huawei veteran who was detained for eight months, from January to August, under charges of extortion after he requested termination compensation from Huawei. The company had apparently pressed charges, but Li was eventually released due to “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence.”
  • The episode sparked outrage among Chinese internet users, who were quick to point out the hypocrisy of detaining a long-term employee while issuing ongoing calls for the release of its CFO (and founder’s daughter).
  • Meng Wanzhou has now been under house arrest in Vancouver for a year during a drawn-out legal battle over her possible extradition to the U.S., while two Canadians taken hostage by China in retaliation have been behind bars without charge for a year.
  • Criticism of Huawei is rare in China these days, the Guardian notes, given its status as “one of the most popular brands within the country and a symbol of national pride.”
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