Nokia Faces Wrath Of Iran's Protesters
By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Ehsan doesn't personally own a Nokia, and over the
past few weeks the 26-year-old Tehran resident has actively tried to ensure that
friends and family -- or anyone else who will listen -- don't buy the
mobile-phone giant's products either.
Ehsan says that he would be proud if his efforts have harmed Nokia, which he
accuses of aiding the Iranian government in its "crackdown against freedom"
following the country's controversial presidential election on June 12.
Mobile phones were a key means of organizing and publicizing protests following
Iran's presidential election.
According to the moderate Iranian daily "Etemad Melli," many Iranians who
sympathize with the protests are boycotting Nokia for providing the Iranian
government with the capability to tap mobile telephones, scramble the SMS text
messages used by many protesters to communicate, and interrupt calls.
The paper, which belongs to reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi,
headlined its story by saying Nokia sales in Iran have been halved as a result
of the boycott, although no figures were provided to support the claim. The
report quoted phone sellers as saying that the price of Nokia cell phones has
fallen in Iran, and that many people are exchanging their Nokia phones for other
Tehran-based journalist Hadi Nili says it's very difficult to obtain reliable
figures to gauge the success of the boycott.
"I spoke to cell-phone sellers, who were unable to confirm it," Nili says. "Some
said that, in general, the sale of SIM cards and cell phones has diminished
because of network problems, but it's really not possible to confirm that people
are buying fewer Nokia cell phones."
In a market where the sale of mobile phones has boomed in recent years, Nili
believes that Nokia remains the first choice for many Iranians despite the
The Iranian economic daily "Donyay-e Eqtesad" reported on July 13 that one
high-end Nokia phone, the Xpress music 5800, is currently the top seller in the
One 37-year-old woman in Tehran who owns a Nokia phone says she hadn't heard
about the boycott campaign. She expresses concern that the government could
possibly tap her phone, but adds that she does not plan to join the boycott
because she can't afford to buy a new phone.
The Nokia boycott campaign was launched following reports that Nokia Siemens
Networks, a Nokia subsidiary that specializes in communications services and
networks, provided the Iranian government with a monitoring center.
"The Wall Street Journal" reported on June 22 that the monitoring capability was
provided in 2008 as part of a deal under which Nokia Siemens Networks provided
Iran with mobile-phone networking technology.
Ben Roome, a spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks, told RFE/RL that the company
provides traditional circuit-switch telecoms equipment to Iran, and that all
networks can potentially be monitored.
"When we sell any network, anywhere in the world, we sell it knowing that
whoever runs that network has the ability, potentially, to listen in to phone
calls running across that network," Roome said.
Nokia protest graphic
In the case of Iran, the technology may have given
the government the ability to listen in on individual phone conversations, and
to track down opposition members and critics. The Iranian establishment is
believed to have used the system during the current crackdown, and even before.
Several former detainees have told RFE/RL that during interrogation sessions
they were asked about past text messages and calls.
A blog titled "Boycott
Nokia For Iran Crackdown" has changed Nokia's motto from
"connecting people" to "jailing people." It states that Nokia has a
responsibility to ensure that its technology is used in an ethical manner. On
Facebook, an image is circulating showing a Nokia cell phone with ears, above
text that reads: "Nobody is alone."
Nokia Siemens Networks spokesman Roome said the company carefully considers
where it does business:
"We rely very heavily, as all international companies do, on international
decision makers -- the governments in the countries in which we're
headquartered, such as Finland and Germany; the European Union, World Trade
Organization; and UN regulations -- about where we can do business," Roome said.
"So, for example we don't sell telecommunication networks to countries like
North Korea or to Burma, and also we know very little and saw very little
information coming out of those countries."
The announcement of a landslide victory by incumbent President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election led to an outpouring of popular anger,
leading the Iranian government to quickly ban all foreign media from covering
In the void of information, mobile phones played a major role in the ability of
Iranian citizens to inform their fellow citizens and the outside world about the
postelection protests and the brutal government response.
Iranians protesters and witnesses used their phones to film demonstrations and
document beatings and shootings by the police and Basij militia forces.
The most tragic video clip recorded the death of a young Iranian woman named
Neda, whose final moments were captured by a mobile phone after she was shot in
the chest by a sniper. The video was quickly posted on electronic media and
social networks such as YouTube and Facebook, instantly making Neda the symbol
of the "green" opposition movement.
Ironically, many of the videos coming out of Iran -- some showing protests and
citizens on rooftops chanting "Allah Akbar" and "Death to the dictator" under
the protection of night -- are likely being filmed on Nokia cell phones.
One activist in Iran who did not want to be named says people should keep using
their mobile phones to send out information about the events inside the country,
while at the same time pressuring Nokia to cancel its contract with Iran.
Some, including Ehsan, say they have also stopped sending text messages from
their phones altogether. Since the country's mobile network is run by the
government, the reasoning goes, they hope to deny what they consider an illegal
government a potential financial resource.
Sometimes the effort falls short.
Tehran-based journalist Nili says that in recent weeks he has received SMS text
messages from friends advising him to stop using SMS's.
RFE/RL's Mazyar Mokfi contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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