Five citizens of China were detained for their private chat on the internet about the technology giant Huawei's Iranian sales, The New York Times reported.
Speaking to NYT, two of the detainees have disclosed that they were imprisoned for eight and three months, respectively.
All former employees of Huawei were attending the WeChat group when one of them said he could prove that the company had sold technology to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The discussion about Iran took place on December 11, according to screenshots seen by NYT.
The five men were all locked in disputes with their onetime employer, the Chinese technology giant, Huawei.
Weeks after the chat, the Chinese security forces arrested all five and interrogated them about the reason for their interest in the matter and the reason for following foreign media.
The arrests came about two weeks after Huawei's chief financial officer and daughter were arrested in Canada on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
China is not only Iran’s biggest trading partner but also its diplomatic ally and supporter. Last month as the coronavirus crisis unfolded China asked the U.S. to lift its sanctions on Iran.
The U.S. government has officially accused Huawei and its chief financial officer of illegally sending US equipment and technology to Iran and transferring money out of the country by deceiving U.S. banks.
For Huawei, not all sales to Iran would have been illegal, NYT says, adding, "In principle, only those involving U.S.-origin goods, technology or services would have fallen afoul of American sanctions. The company has said its sales in Iran were for commercial civilian use and did not violate sanctions."