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Nokia Siemens says it didn't help Iranian government spy

By Ivan Watson, CNN
Isa Saharkhiz has been in an Iranian prison since July 2009. His son says Nokia Siemens helped Iran spy on him.
Isa Saharkhiz has been in an Iranian prison since July 2009. His son says Nokia Siemens helped Iran spy on him.
  • Iranian accuses the telecom company of helping the Iran government spy
  • Nokia Siemens says the suit is filed against the wrong party, on the wrong premise
  • Company says it halted all work related to monitoring centers in Iran in 2009

(CNN) -- Nokia Siemens Networks said Friday it rejects a lawsuit filed in a U.S. court by a jailed Iranian journalist and his son, who have accused the European telecommunications company of providing the Iranian government the tools to spy on its own citizens.

"The Saharkhiz lawsuit is brought in the wrong place, against the wrong party and on the wrong premise," the company announced in a statement e-mailed to CNN. "The Saharkhizes allege brutal treatment by the government in Iran, but they have not sued that government. Instead, they are seeking to blame Nokia Siemens Networks for the acts of the Iranian authorities by filing a lawsuit in the U.S., a country that has absolutely no connection to the issue they are raising."

Earlier this week, New Jersey-based Iranian blogger Mehdi Saharkhiz filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against Nokia Siemens Networks on behalf of his father, Isa, who has been in an Iranian prison since July 2009.

The lawsuit accuses the telecommunications company of helping the Iranian government establish "spying centers" that allegedly were used to monitor Saharkhiz's cell phone communications. Isa Saharkhiz is just one of hundreds of outspoken critics of the Iranian government to have been arrested as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on opposition leaders over the past year.

"Nokia gave the technology that made this arrest possible," said Mehdi Saharkhiz, in an interview with CNN. "When these people arrested my dad they said, 'We traced your phone.'"

This is not the first time the joint venture between Nokia and Siemens has come under fire from activists critical of the company's dealings with the Iranian government. Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi previously accused Nokia Siemens Network of supplying the technology to allow the government to monitor cell phone calls and text messages. There have also been reports of boycotts of Nokia products inside Iran.

Last June, a top executive from Nokia Siemens defended his company's decision to supply a telephone "monitoring center" to Iran in 2008 during an appearance before the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights. Barry French, a member of Nokia Siemens' executive board, argued that law enforcement agencies around the world require "Lawful Interception" capability from mobile phone operators "as a condition of their license to operate."

French said the technology is necessary to combat child pornography, drug trafficking and terrorism.

However, he acknowledged that his company miscalculated when it came to providing monitoring centers to Iran.

"We halted all work related to monitoring centers in Iran in 2009, including service and support," French said, according to a statement distributed by his company's press office. "We believe we should have understood the issues in Iran better in advance and addressed them more proactively."

Nokia Siemens says it sold off its monitoring center business in March 2009.

One prominent Iranian human rights group has applauded the Saharkhiz lawsuit against Nokia Siemens.

"We have to make sure international corporations are not enablers of the Iranian governments' human rights crimes," said Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "Even if Nokia Siemens manages to escape a judgment in this case, the message to other corporations will be loud and clear to stay away from such business deals."

As for Isa Saharkhiz, he appeared in a Tehran court last month to face charges of "plotting to overthrow the government."

After a year in prison, during which Saharkhiz claims he was beaten by his captors, the journalist's health has declined considerably. His son says he can move only with the help of a wheelchair due to back problems. More recently, Mehdi Saharkhiz says, his father's blood pressure has soared to dangerous levels.

More then a month after his trial, Saharkhiz is still in prison awaiting a verdict.