Nokia and their mates in Tehran

In my book The Blogging Revolution I examined the role of Western web multinationals in assisting repressive regimes censoring information.

This latest story should therefore not come as a shock but how many Westerners realise that their mobile phone company is backing a dictatorship?

A jailed Iranian journalist is suing phone company Nokia on the grounds its surveillance technology helped Iranian authorities hunt him down.

Isa Saharkhiz has been in jail for over a year and his family says he has had his ribs broken from being beaten.

Saharkhiz says Nokia knowingly sold the surveillance technology to a regime renowned for its human rights abuses.

But Nokia says Iran is to blame for misusing the technology.

Saharkhiz fell foul of the Iranian regime because of an article he wrote during last year’s opposition protests.

The Islamic authorities accused him of taking part in massive anti-government rallies and set about arresting him.

He fled Tehran, but when he turned his Nokia mobile phone on briefly, he was caught and thrown in jail.

Saharkhiz’s son Mehdi, who lives in New York, says Nokia’s interception technology allowed the authorities to trace his father.

“When he left Tehran he shut off his phone. No-one knew where he was,” Mehdi said.

“He turned on his phone for a short period of time, being able to do an interview, and that’s where they were able to trace him, using that signal. He was arrested while he was talking on the phone.

“They actually traced his location from his cell phone to find where he was, so the technology was sold to trace and find people.”

Saharkhiz has been in jail now for 14 months, charged with trying to overthrow the Iranian government.

But through his son in America, he is suing Nokia in a US court on the grounds he was beaten and mistreated as a result of the Iranian government monitoring his phone calls.

“Nokia sold this technology to Iran knowing that it will be used not in the way that it was meant to be,” Mehdi said.

“We’re talking about a country that all around the world you’re not able to sell airplane spare parts to, but Nokia, for making a few more bucks they’ve risked so many people’s lives.

“We’re hoping to set a precedent so companies like this don’t sell people’s rights to make a few more dollars.”

No-one at Nokia was available to speak to the ABC.

In a recent statement to a European parliamentary committee on human rights, the phone carrier admitted it sold Iran the technology that allows authorities to track mobile phone users.

But the company says it is a standard feature for law enforcement.

It also acknowledges the technology has been used to suppress dissent and agrees that Nokia should have understood the human rights situation in Iran better.

But it says the lawsuit has been brought in the wrong place, against the wrong party, and on the wrong premise.

Nokia says it is the Iranian government that should be sued for misusing the technology.

Mehdi Saharkhiz says at the very least he is hoping the case will bring change.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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