• 6 October 2010
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Nokia Feels the Heat

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.

Posted By Lily Samimi

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign the Petition


7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



Share this with your friends: