Ebadi: "Nokia Siemens' Action A Major Accomplishment For Iranians And For People Of The World"

Following publication of a press release by Nokia Siemens Networks about the company’s halting all its activities in the area of monitoring technology with Iran, Shirin Ebadi who has had an active role in the negotiations with the company told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the company’s action is a major accomplishment for Iranian people and people of the world.

In a press release published last week, Nokia Siemens Networks referred to a meeting the multi-national company’s representatives had with Shirin Ebadi, discussing transparency. “Nokia Siemens Networks is aware of credible reports that the Iranian authorities use communications technology to suppress political activity in a way that is inconsistent with that government’s human rights obligations,” stated the press release. “As a result of these credible reports, Nokia Siemens Networks halted all work related to monitoring centers in Iran in 2009. Nokia Siemens Networks divested its monitoring center business in 2009 and will no longer provide monitoring centers to any country,” it added. The statement further added that as a result of these reports, “the company has voluntarily restricted its business in Iran by not seeking or accepting new customers and by limiting its activities with its current customers.”

Over the past several months, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi has held negotiations with Nokia Siemens Networks. “After several prisoners, including Mr. Saharkhiz, said that they had been abused as a result of the Iranian government’s utilization of technology and software sold by Nokia Siemens, myself and other human rights defenders tried to prevent use of technology against the people and for censorship and intimidation of people. In a few demonstrations, myself and other human rights defenders in Iran and outside Iran asked people to throw away their Nokia cell phones as a symbolic gesture. This caused Nokia’s sales to drop to half of what it was before the elections in Iran. Efforts continued at an international level. I must thank the efforts of Reporters Without Borders here, as they did a lot side by side of me and other human rights defenders,” Ebadi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

“More than one year of international efforts and contacts we made with Nokia Siemens managers have led them to see that the Iranian government has not used the purchased software in appropriate ways and has used it for censorship. All of this led to the press release which is posted on Nokia Siemens’ website. In the announcement, they state that because the Iranian government has not utilized the software properly, Nokia Siemens will not renew its contracts with the Iranian government. Their existing signed contracts will end during the next year at the latest and they will not sign new contracts after that,” said Ebadi regarding efforts which led to Nokia Siemens Networks’ press release.

Shirin Ebadi expressed hope that Nokia Siemens’ attitude would lead other software providers, especially Chinese companies, to realize that technology must not be used against the people. “I would like to point out that currently, through use of software provided by Chinese companies, the Iranian government taps and listens to telephone conversations and monitors targeted electronic mail exchanges,” Ebadi told the Campaign.

The Nobel Peace Laureate told the Campaign that Nokia Siemens’ accomplishment is an important one, not just for the Iranian nation, but for all the people in the world, because this could become a guideline by which other companies abide and learn from it. “This means that when a company realizes that the goods it provided are being used in an inappropriate manner, the company will not extend its contract and avoid sacrificing human rights values for financial gain,” she said.

Pressure on Eutelsat to stop television censorship

Shirin Ebadi also pointed to censorship of television, which during the past year has taken new dimensions. “Another issue is the issue of Eutelsat, which is a French-based satellite company. Over one-third of Eutelsat’s stock is owned by the French government. Iranian radio and television are state-owned and under severe censorship. A few years ago, BBC and Voice of America televisions began broadcasting Farsi-language programming for the Iranian people. After the election, the Iranian government was very angry because the people had access to uncensored information, and they showed their anger by severe jamming of satellite broadcasting. These electronic interferences prevented broadcast of programs in some parts of Iran. Twice the Europe Union objected to the jamming of European satellite broadcasts. The objections are not sufficient measures in this case, however,” Ebadi told the Campaign.

According to Ms. Ebadi, through Iranian government’s negotiations with Eutelsat, the company participated in censorship. These television networks were broadcasting from Hot Bird satellite before, as this satellite provided better coverage for viewers in the Middle East, covering a larger geographic area. But through an agreement Eutelsat Company made with the Iranian government, without any reason, BBC and Voice of America television stations were taken off Hot Bird and put on another satellite that was not as effective for the Middle East region and has many blind spots. As a result, a number of people cannot have free access to information.

“You could say that Eutelsat has assisted in the censorship with the Iranian government, choosing financial interests over human rights values, including freedom of expression. This is an issue to which myself and other defenders of human rights have repeatedly objected. We will continue our objections on an international level until large businesses know,that in addition to countries, huge multinational companies are obligated to respect human rights, too, and ‘financial gain at any cost’ can not be the only consideration anymore,” Ebadi emphasized.

“Regarding Eutelsat Company, I would like to note that this company has engaged in similar inappropriate behavior before in the case of Georgia, too. The Georgian government had a Russian-language TV station which was broadcasting its programs. Eutelsat made a deal with the Russians, and removed Georgia’s Russian-language station from their Hot Bird satellite. In fact, Eutelsat has engaged in information censorship in return for financial gain twice,” said Head of Center for Human Rights Defenders about Eutelsat’s track record in reaching agreements with countries over censorship.

“The Iranian government broadcasts all its international television programming on Hot Bird network. Additionally, several national TV channels use Hot Bird to strengthen and broadcast their waves for transmission all over Iran. The Iranian government is one of Eutelsat Company’s customers. Eutelsat Company could have easily given notice to the Iranian government not to send jamming waves to disrupt the broadcast of Farsi-language programming, such as those of BBC’s and VOA’s. If the Iranian government did not heed Eutelsat’s warning, Eutelsat could have removed Iran’s television programs from Hot Bird. But we witnessed that not only did Eutelsat not do this and did not issue a warning to Iranian government, it removed the other television stations from Hot Bird and collaborated with the Iranian government in censorship, all for financial gain,” Ms. Ebadi said.