Nokia Siemens Networks has been under fire lately. Anyone who watched what happened in the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 election knows how hard it was for Iranians to get information out to the rest of the world without being caught by Iranian officials. And, as it was widely reported, Nokia’s technology played a major role in enabling the Iranian government to crack down on protesters by monitoring their cell phone devices, emails, and internet activities. But now, Nokia is being hit hard for their involvement.
In June 2010, Nokia released a carefully worded statement about the role of their technology in Iran and the human rights violations there.  A Nokia spokesperson, Barry French, told the European Parliament’s Human Rights Subcommittee that the company has been exiting out of the monitoring center business since March 2009 (before the June 2009 election) and they halted all service and support with Iran in 2009 after the elections. It seems Nokia wanted to make it clear that they condemn the human rights violations that Iranian officials have committed using  their technology, however they were not willing to take any blame for it.
In mid August 2010, two Iranians – Isa Saharkhiz and his son Mehdi Saharkhiz – filed suit in the United States against Nokia Siemens based on the Alien Torte Statute. This statute allows cases, especially human rights cases, to be brought to court in the United States even if they been committed on foreign soil, so long as they involve a potential violation of American treaty law. The Saharkhizes are suing Nokia for selling monitoring devices to the Iranian government that led to Isa’s arrest, torture, and 3 year conviction. Isa Saharkhiz is a reformist journalist and former head of the press department at the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Education under President Khatami. He is just one of the many examples of people that have been arrested and abused by Iranian officials who found them through Nokia’s monitoring system.
Adding to the pressure, legislation was signed into law by President Obama in July 2010 that sanctions companies like Nokia. In a provision supported by NIAC, companies may not receive US government contracts if they sell technology to the Iranian government used to repress the Iranian people .
And now, Ms. Shirin Ebadi discussed with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran her meeting with Mr. French about the consequences of  Nokia’s monitoring center business that was sold to Iran. She made it clear in her meeting with Mr. French that, even though Nokia may not have known how Iran would be using the technology they provided, they still bare responsibility for their products being utilized to  abuse countless innocent Iranians. Shortly after their meeting, Nokia issued a press release stating clearly that they have divested any business with Iran, will not introduce any new customers from Iran to their business, will limit their interaction with current Iranian customers, and will not renew any contracts with Iran. Ms. Ebadi mentioned that their current contract with Iran should end by the end of this year.
Hearing the news that Nokia is only now responding to deserved pressure doesn’t settle well with me, and I’m sure it doesn’t settle well with many in the Iranian-American community. Even though Nokia has stopped selling to the Iranian government, this does not guarantee that the Iran won’t  continue to use the technology even without Nokia’s assistance. But even though we can’t change what happened in the past, we can change what will happen in the future. And, through the work of Ms. Ebadi and others, what has occurred with Nokia in the past several months should set an example for any other companies who consider turning a profit by selling Iran’s government with tools of repression.

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