Request that Government Reconsider 5G Contracting with Huawei Over Allegations of Slavery and Company’s Implication in the Repression and Persecution of the Uyghur People

Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, 27 April 2020

Today a letter has been sent to the British Government requesting that they immediately agree to reconsider their decision to contract with the company Huawei for part of the United Kingdom’s 5G network.

This letter has been sent on behalf of two British Uyghur clients, Rahima Mahmut, a human rights activist and head of the World Uyghur Congress London Office and Enver Tohti Bughda who is also an activist and a member of the International Advisory Committee of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China.

The activists are requesting that the Government undertakes to reconsider the decision on the basis that it was made in breach of the UK’s international obligations and commitments made in regards to business and human rights. They will argue that the decision should be reconsidered as there is evidence of the use of forced labour and slavery in Huawei’s supply chain. It has also been alleged that Huawei plays an integral part in the systematic oppression of the Uyghur and other Turkic people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) which amounts to crimes against humanity and a breach of jus cogens norms of international law.

In regards to slavery within Huawei’s supply chain the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), an independent think tank has published a report titled ‘Uyghurs for Sale: ‘Re-education’, Forced Labour and Surveillance Beyond Xinjiang’ which states that ‘The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country…… Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour….’ and that this forced labour includes Uyghurs working in factories which are part of Huawei’s supply chain. Conservative estimates of the number of Uyghur workers forced into servitude by the Chinese authorities are that 80,000 have been enslaved in this way; however, as the Report notes, the number is likely to be significantly higher.

The evidence from the ASPI Report Mapping China’s Technology Giants alleges that Huawei is ‘deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang.’ (page 16)

Through their research the ASPI has ‘mapped 75 Smart City-Public Security projects, most of which involve Huawei’ and reported that these projects ‘include the provision of surveillance cameras, command and control centres, facial and licence plate recognition technologies, data labs, intelligence fusion capabilities and portable rapid deployment systems for use in emergencies.’ The Report also explains that ‘Huawei provides the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau with technical support and training….’ and that ‘the company’s work with Xinjiang’s public security apparatus also includes providing a modular data centre for the Public Security Bureau of Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang and a public security cloud solution in Karamay. In early 2018, the company launched an ‘intelligent security’ innovation lab in collaboration with the Public Security Bureau in Urumqi’ and ‘According to reporting, Huawei is providing Xinjiang’s police with technical expertise, support and digital services to ensure ‘Xinjiang’s social stability and long-term security’.

The ASPI also reports that ‘Huawei’s work in Xinjiang is extensive and the company works directly with the Chinese Government’s public security bureaus, and police forces, in the region….This work is reported by China’s state media, Huawei’s corporate news and detailed by local authorities’ and that ‘ some of Huawei’s promoted ‘success cases’ are Public Security Bureau projects in Xinjiang, such as the Modular Data Center for the Public Security Bureau of Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang. Huawei also provides police in Xinjiang with technical support to help ‘meet the digitization requirements of the public security industry’. Huawei also established an ‘intelligent security industry’ innovation lab in Urumqi,’ jointly with the Xinjiang Public Security Department at the launch of which ‘a Public Security Department official stated that that Huawei had been supplying reliable technical support for the department. In 2014, Huawei participated in an anti-terrorism, Belt and Road Initiative-themed conference in Urumqi as ‘an important participant of’ a program called ‘Safe Xinjiang’ (code for a police surveillance system). Huawei was said to have built the police surveillance systems in Karamay, Kashgar and was praised by the head of Xinjiang provincial police department for its contributions in “Safe Xinjiang”.

The involvement of Huawei in the Xinyang Uyghur Autonomous Region security apparatus is also alleged in the ‘China Cables’, a set of highly classified Chinese government documents that were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

There are significant allegations that the Chinese authorities are committing crimes against humanity including torture, enslavement, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment and other sever deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, enforced marriage and pregnancy, persecution based on religion, race, and ethnicity, and the enforced disappearance of persons. There is also evidence which alleges that Huawei’s role is integral to the commission of these breaches of jus cogens rules of international law.

The claimants in this case are represented by a team made up of human rights barrister Michael Polak chair of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, specialist judicial review solicitor Oliver Carter of Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, and Dr Aris Georgopoulos, Assistant Professor in European and Public Law at the School of Law, University of Nottingham and Head of the Research Unit for Strategic and Defence Procurement of the Public Procurement Research Group (PPRG)

In regards to this important case Michael Polak has stated the following:

Given the evidence that Huawei is an integral part of the security apparatus where the Uyghur and other Turkic people are subjected to crimes against humanity, our clients believe it would be unconscionable for the Government to maintain a course of action welcoming them into our national infrastructure.

Our clients have bravely decided to challenge a company which has played such a large part in the oppression of the Uyghur people in atrocities which provide a perfect example of the damage which can be done by a powerful authoritarian government setting out to destroy a people and a culture.

Our Government needs to act within both its legal obligations not to contract with companies involved in gross human rights violations and with slavery tainted supply chains and its moral obligation to make it clear to the Chinese Authorities and those companies aligning themselves closely to them, that the mass detention and repression of the Uyghur people will not be tolerated.’

Rahima Mahmut, one of the Claimants in this case, and head of the World Uyghur Congress London Office has stated:

Since 2016, my homeland has been turned into the biggest digital gulag on earth, and Huawei has been working with the public security bureau providing surveillance technology which is being used to arbitrarily detain millions of my people. I myself have lost contact with my family since January 2017, when my brother asked me not to contact them, “leave us in God’s hands” he said in a trembling voice. The entire Uyghur population both inside the Uyghur region and in exile are suffering from the Chinese government’s oppressive surveillance technology. 

It’s a disgrace that a company that is central to the oppression and suppression of an entire ethnic population has been given such an important role within the infrastructure of the United Kingdom. It is a betrayal of the core values and morals that I believed this country stood for as a British citizen.’

Enver Tohti, the other Claimant has stated that:

God created us equal, but the Chinese government has turned us into second class citizens and has imprisoned thousands of my compatriots. Many of my friends and families have been taken into the concentration camps and we do not know when or if they will be released. Those who remain outside of the camps live their life in the shadow of fear and repression unable to practice their religion and culture for the fear that they too may disappearance into these horrendous camps. As a British Uyghur I need the Government to speak up against the repression of the Uyghur people, not go into business with a company which is deeply involved in these acts against us.’

The case to challenge the decision to contract with Huawei on human rights grounds is being funded using Crowd Justice. The claimants welcome donations from those from around the world who want to support them in their David and Goliath battle. Donations can be made here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/challenge-to-huawei-5g/

Media Requests

We are happy to accommodate any media requests. To arrange please email [email protected] or call Michael Polak at Church Court Chambers on 020 7936 3637

Notes to Editors

Lawyer for Uyghur Rights, www.lawyersforuyghurrights.com is a group made up of barristers, solicitors, paralegals, academics, and students who are working together to develop strategies to combat the mass oppression and atrocities being carried of the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) The organisation is chaired by Michael Polak.

Michael Polak is a barrister practising in both international and domestic human rights law as well as criminal law defence. He practises from Church Court Chambers in London and is a Director of Justice Abroad (www.justiceabroad.co.uk). He is chair of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights and works closely with the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur community.

Oliver Carter is a solicitor in the Public Law & Human Rights team at Irwin Mitchell, specialising in civil liberties and judicial review work, and is instructed to act for Ms Mahmut and Mr Tohti. In July 2019, he received a Legal Aid Practitioners Group Special Award for making an exceptional contribution to legal aid and access to justice at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.

Dr Aris Georgopoulos is Assistant Professor in European and Public Law at the School of Law, University of Nottingham and Head of the Research Unit for Strategic and Defence Procurement of the Public Procurement Research Group (PPRG). He has been a Global Governance Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, and a Grotius Fellow at the Law School of the University of Michigan and has acted as expert advisor to national authorities, international organisations and institutions (such as the OECD, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, The European Court of Auditors and USAID)