Huawei employee claims he was jailed for wanting severance pay

A former Huawei employee has claimed he was jailed for eight months after demanding severance pay from the Chinese phone giant.

Li Hongyuan, 35, who said he had worked for the company for 13 years, released court documents purportedly showing that he was held in January for extortion then released in August due to lack of evidence.

The news came as Julian King, Britain’s outgoing EU commissioner, suggested that the European Union would not impose a blanket ban on Huawei building 5G mobile networks but could warn its governments against using the Chinese company.

Mr Li was detained in Shenzhen in December last year, after he had been sued by Huawei for "suspected extortion". He claimed he was ultimately paid around 300,000 yuan (£33,000) severance fee, sent via a Huawei secretary’s personal bank account, with a reference saying the transaction was "economic compensation for termination", according to reports.

The company cited the 300,000 yuan in the secretary’s account as evidence of the supposed extortion, but prosecutors dropped the charges in August.

Messages supporting Mr Li went viral on Chinese social media, with people raising questions about Chinese law punishing employees fighting for their labour rights.

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In an open letter to Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, Mr Li wrote: "It was not my original intention to cause so much attention online. Although I underwent the harshest revenge … and my career was ended, I don’t regret my choice. In an era of twisted morals, man always pays a price for telling the truth."

Huawei said the company “has the right and duty to report factual and unlawful actions to law enforcement institutions. We respect the decisions made by those institutions, including the police, the procuratorate, and the court. If Li believes his rights have been harmed, we support his use of legal measures to defend his rights, including suing Huawei. It also shows that all are equal under the law.”

The publicity around the case has piled further pressure on Huawei, already under global scrutiny over fears about personal data use and suspect business practises.

Outside China Huawei defends its status as a private company, but within the country it often presents itself as being close to the CCP. Many countries view the company as an espionage threat, particularly the US.

A cyber security report released by the EU in October did not mention Huawei by name, but said that "threats posed by states or state-backed actors are perceived to be of highest relevance" with regards to 5G security.

Huawei plans to roll out 5G services widely in 2020.

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