Business Insider Edition

Huawei technicians have been helping governments in Uganda and Zambia spy on their political opponents, a new report says

Antonio Villas-Boas , Business Insider US
 Aug 14, 2019, 09:34 PM
Michael Dodge/Getty Images
  • Huawei technicians helped the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy on their political opponents, leading to their arrest, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • There's no evidence that Huawei or China approved or even knew about the actions of the Huawei employees stationed in Uganda and Zambia. Nothing indicates that the Huawei technology used in the alleged spying was specialised or exclusive, suggesting that any similar technology from any company could be used for the same effect.
  • The report comes amid scrutiny from the US toward Huawei based on the risk that China could use Huawei telecoms equipment to spy on the US.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

Huawei employees stationed in Uganda and Zambia have helped the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy on their political opponents, which has led to the opponents' arrests in both countries, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In Kampala, Uganda, Huawei employees reportedly helped Uganda's cyber-surveillance unit break into the WhatsApp group belonging to Bobi Wine, a political opponent to the current Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. The Huawei employees used spyware made by an Israeli company to break into the WhatsApp group, which led to Wine's arrest, as well as the arrest of dozens of his supporters.

In Zambia, Huawei technicians reportedly helped the government access the phones and Facebook pages belonging to bloggers who oppose Zambian president Edgar Lungu's regime. This allowed the Zambian cyber-surveillance unit to locate the bloggers' locations, which led to their arrest.

In both instances in Uganda and Zambia, the Journal's report that Huawei helped those governments to spy on their political opponents were corroborated by senior security officials.

It's also said that the Huawei employees used Huawei and other technology to aid the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy and arrest their political opponents.

There was no evidence that the Huawei employees who helped the Ugandan and Zambian government allegedly spy on their opponents acted on behalf of Huawei or the Chinese government, nor did Huawei or China know about the Huawei employees' actions, according to the Journal. There was nothing exclusive or specific about the Huawei technology that was used, either, suggesting that any similar technology from any company could have been used to the same effect.

Huawei South Africa said it rejects the Wall Street Journal's allegations against its business operations in Algeria, Uganda, and Zambia.

"Huawei's code of business conduct prohibits any employees from undertaking any activities that would compromise our customers or end users' data or privacy or that would breach any laws," Huawei told Business Insider South Africa. 

"Huawei prides itself on its compliance with the local laws and regulations in all markets where it operates and will defend its reputation robustly in the face of such baseless allegations."

Still, the report comes at an inopportune time for Huawei, which faces scrutiny from the US government over fears that Huawei telecoms technology could be used by the Chinese government to spy on the US.

In 2018, the White House banned federal agencies and employees from using telecoms equipment from Huawei, to which Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei responded that the company has never been used to spy on behalf of the Chinese government, nor would it comply to a request to do.

This article has been updated to include comment from Huawei South Africa. 

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