Nokia Siemens lawsuit dropped by Iranian plaintiffs | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 18.11.2010
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Nokia Siemens lawsuit dropped by Iranian plaintiffs

Two Iranian plaintiffs had filed a case against Nokia Siemens in American federal court, where they had alleged that the sale of telecommunications surveillance technology to Iran had resulted in arrest and torture.

Many Iranians accused Nokia Siemens of helping the regime

Many Iranians accused Nokia Siemens of helping the regime

Last Wednesday, the attorney for two Iranians who had sued Nokia Siemens Networks in an American federal court withdrew their lawsuit.

In the case, the plantiffs Isa Saharkhiz and Mehdi Saharkhiz had alleged that the sale of Nokia Siemens Networks mobile phone surveillance technology led to the arrest and torture of Isa Saharkhiz in Iran over a year ago.

"This was purely a legal and strategic decision," attorney Ali Herischi told Deutsche Welle. Herischi is representing the plaintiffs and hopes to bring the case again later.

"The only reason we dropped the case at the moment was to keep it alive and viable," Herischi added.

Mehdi Saharkhiz has said previously that his father, a well-known Iranian journalist, remains in custody. The son, Mehdi, now lives in New Jersey in the United States, where he is well-known for being an online Iranian human rights activist.

In late June 2009, in an election widely viewed as fraudulent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected as president of Iran. As protests raged in the election's aftermath, the Iranian government cracked down on communications technologies, shutting down mobile phone access and limiting Internet access.

In the weeks that followed, it was revealed that Nokia Siemens Networks had sold mobile phone surveillance equipment to Iran. Many Iranian dissidents blamed the company for aiding a regime that they said was oppressive.

Legal case began in August

Isa Saharkhiz remains in prison in Iran

Isa Saharkhiz remains in prison in Iran

The father and son team had pursued a legal strategy under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign nationals to sue in American courts for offenses that happened abroad provided that there are violations of American treaty law - in this case, the filing alleges the elder Saharkhiz was tortured as a result of Nokia Siemens' actions.

"Plaintiffs have made their decision in light of recent unsettled court decisions concerning the Alien Tort Claim Act, and the continued detention of Mr. Isa Saharkhiz and restrictions placed on him by the Iranian government," wrote Ali Herischi, in a statement released Monday on his firm, Moawad & Herischi LLP's, website.

"This withdrawal is by no means a confirmation of Nokia Siemens Networks defenses or a relieve of their responsibility, but rather, a reconsideration of the legal environment and Isa's current circumstances. Plaintiffs are hopeful that future developments and easing restrictions on Mr. Saharkhiz will provide for a better opportunity for Isa to hold all those responsible for his arrest, torture and mistreatment accountable."

But in September, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a different case that the Alien Tort Claims Act, under which the plaintiffs planned to sue, "does not apply to corporate defendants," said Adam Kanzer, an attorney with Domini Social Investments in the United States.

"This is a major setback. Regardless of the withdrawal of this suit, Nokia Siemens still faces significant human rights risks," Kanzer added.

Nokia Siemens Networks has said that it is no longer involved in Iran

Nokia Siemens Networks has said that it is no longer involved in Iran

Nokia Siemens Networks denies responsibility

In response to the withdrawl, the company posted a statement to its website that the company "cannot and should not be held responsible for the alleged actions of the Iranian authorities."

"We are hopeful that the plaintiffs' withdrawal of the suit indicates they have reached the same conclusion," the company continued in the same statement. "We share a concern for Mr. Saharkhiz's welfare and that of dissidents and journalists persecuted for free expression in Iran and elsewhere. Accordingly, we call upon all countries to follow due process and provide humane treatment in accordance with their laws and applicable international agreements."

Nokia Siemens Networks is a joint venture founded in 2006 between the Finnish telecom giant Nokia and the German corporation Siemens.

Since the company first came under fire over a year ago, it has argued that it was following the law at the time, and that it is no longer involved in the sale of surveillance equipment to Iran.

Testifying before a European Parliament committee on human rights in June, Nokia executive Barry French said his company had sold "roughly one third of the deployed capacity" for mobile and data service to two major Iranian mobile operators, MCI and Irancell.

As part of these networks, Nokia Siemens provided a "lawful interception capability to both operators" and "a related monitoring center to MCI."

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Greg Wiser

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