A lawyer for Chinese company Huawei has sent a letter of protest against an article published in The Wall Street Journal on 15 August alleging that the firm’s employees in Uganda and Zambia have helped local governments to spy on opposition figures. The letter, destined for the newspaper, calls the article "neither a fair nor a responsible representation" of the company's activities on the continent.
"The publication of these false statements has and will continue to damage Huawei’s reputation and business interests across the globe […] Huawei takes these false and defamatory statements about its business seriously", the letter read.
The letter indicated that Huawei provided WSJ with all relevant information regarding its activities in the two African countries at the stage of the article's preparation, which the newspaper allegedly ignored. The Chinese company's lawyer also suggested that the media outlet was aware that its sources could be feeding it false information.
"Based on Huawei’s June 19 email and other information it provided to you, it is reasonable to conclude that you knew that these sources were not reliable. As a result, and at a minimum, the Journal published these false statements in reckless disregard of their veracity", the letter said.
Huawei's letter comes in the wake of statements by both Ugandan and Zambian officials, who denounced the article as "false" and "malicious".
In its article, the WSJ, citing anonymous officials in both countries' governments, reported that local Huawei technicians helped these governments to spy on opposition figures, namely their social media, communications and their physical location and movements. The Chinese company's employees also allegedly helped to infiltrate the WhatsApp chat of Ugandan opposition lawmaker and musician, Bobi Wine, and purportedly aided Zambian authorities to determine the location of bloggers writing for local opposition media outlets.
The WSJ claimed to have received the names of these employees, but didn't explicitly publish them. The newspaper noted, however, that it has found no proof that these workers allegedly acted under orders from Huawei's headquarters or Beijing, or that the Chinese company's leadership knew about such activities. It also failed to uncover whether the alleged espionage activities were due to the use of Huawei equipment in the country.
The US has been accusing Huawei of helping Beijing to spy on its customers, something that the company and the Chinese government have vehemently denied. Still, Washington banned the company from the country and imposed limitations on its acquisition of American tech, which were temporarily lifted by Trump. According to media reports, the wavier, which soon expires, will be prolonged for another 3 months.
Washington has also been pushing other countries to refrain from using Huawei technologies in 5G networks, even threatening allies in Europe with cutting them off from the intelligence-sharing programme.