Activist sues Nokia Siemens in US over Iran cell monitoring

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An Iranian activist is suing Nokia Siemens before a US court, accusing the firm and its parent companies of supplying the Iranian government with technology it used to spy on dissidents.

Moawad & Herischi, the Maryland firm that filed the suit Monday, said Isa Saharkhiz alleges "human rights violations committed by the Iranian government (were carried out) through the aid of spying centers which were provided by Nokia Siemens Networks."

The firm said Isa Saharkhiz, an Iranian journalist and political dissident, was arrested "as a result of the surveillance and monitoring of his cell phone communications in the aftermath of disputed 2009 presidential election in Iran."

"Since his arrest, Iranian officials have tortured Mr. Saharkhiz and subjected him to other inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment. Currently, his health is deteriorating, suffering from untreated injuries caused by torture, resulting from Iranian authorities withholding necessary medical care."

The suit, filed before a federal court in the US state of Virginia, targets Nokia Siemens Networks and its parent companies Nokia, a Finnish telecoms firm, and Siemens AG, a German engineering giant.

It calls on Nokia Siemens Networks "to cease all unlawful support of intercepting centers of the Iranian government," asks the firm "to help secure the release of Mr. Isa Saharkhiz through the use of their connections with the Iranian government.

"Lastly, the suit seeks relief that would prevent defendants from harming others in the future in other similarly situated countries like Iran."

In March, Iranian Nobel Peace prizewinner Shirin Ebadi said Western firms were undermining opposition to the Iranian government.

"Unfortunately, a certain number of firms support the Iranian regime in its repression and censorship," the exiled Iranian feminist told France Culture radio.

"It's clearly the case with Siemens and Nokia when they send the Iranian state software and technology that it can use to monitor mobile telephone calls and text messages," she said.

Even before Ebadi's accusation, Nokia Siemens had denied that a system it sold Tehran in 2008 was capable of bugging calls or spying on the Internet.

After her charges, the company insisted that networks supported by its technology could in fact boost freedom of expression.

"We, as a company, in no way approve of the misuse of telecommunication equipment," Nokia Siemens Network spokeswoman Riitta Maard told AFP in March.

"We believe that communication and mobile phone technologies play a significant role in the development of societies and the advancement of democracy," she said.

© 2010 AFP

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