The Chinese telecom corporation Huawei has come under fire in its own country as members of the public rallied behind a former employee detained for eight months after demanding severance pay from the company.
Last January, Li Hongyuan, a Huawei employee of 13 years, was arrested on extortion charges and detained until August, when he was released because of “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence”, according to court documents posted online by Li.
According to Li, 35, he had negotiated termination compensation of about 300,000 yuan (£33,000), which was transferred to him through a secretary’s private account. The case has caused a wave of criticism over the company’s treatment of a longtime employee and questions about Chinese law punishing someone advocating for their employee rights. Huawei has not confirmed the lawsuit nor commented on the allegations.
On the social network Weibo, users were posting the numbers “985, 996, 035, 251, 404” a riff on the “996” culture of Chinese technology companies of working 9am to 9pm, six days a week.
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In the case of Li, the numbers refer to graduating from one of the country’s 985 top universities, being fired at the age of 35, detained for 251 days, and seeing all related reports censored. The code was trending on Weibo on Monday.
In an open letter addressed to the Huawei founder, Ren Zhengfei, Li wrote: “It wasn’t my intention to cause so much attention online and I am sorry about it. Also, I don’t regret my choice for speaking the truth. There is always a cost to being honest.”
“In regards to my detention, my father was shocked and passed away, and my child was scared,” he added. “I hope I can take some of your time for a cup of coffee.”
The criticism from within China is rare for Huawei, one of the most popular brands within the country and a symbol of national pride. Chinese citizens have rallied behind the company as it battles accusations of government influence, pushing Huawei smartphone sales up.
On Sunday, Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese Huawei executive who was arrested in Canada a year ago, published an open letter thanking Chinese citizens for their support, writing: “Your passion and support have always warmed my heart. Netizens have gone out of their way to express their ongoing trust, support, and care for us as well. You can see their comments online every time Huawei is in the news.”
In comments below Meng’s letter, commentators accused her of hypocrisy. One user wrote: “Li Hongyuan has worked hard for a dozen years and was forced to resign at the age of 35. He ends up in detention for protecting his own worker’s right … your suffering is called suffering, but what about those in jail for 251 days?”
A Weibo user wrote: “All day Huawei spouts patriotism and decries the kidnapping [of Meng], then it goes and jails its own workers.”
Additional reporting by Jiahui Huang