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MTN accused of infringing human rights
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 00:00
Written by Bonnie Tubbs
SA’s Democratic Alliance (DA) has formally requested that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigates cellphone giant MTN for human rights violations in Iran, where the company is countering a barrage of bribery and corruption charges against it.
This follows a $4.2 billion lawsuit filed by Istanbul-based operator Turkcell last month, in which it accused MTN of shady dealings in its 2004 acquisition of a GSM licence that was originally awarded to Turkcell.
Among the list of claims against MTN, Turkcell’s 144-page court application suggests the MTN Group may have undertaken to provide access to its devices by agreeing to facilitate the installation of “eavesdropping technology” on its devices in Iran.
DA shadow minister of defence and military veterans, David Maynier, says there is a concern that, in possibly facilitating the surveillance of the political opposition, MTN may be responsible for violation of human rights in Iran, “directly or indirectly”.
Iran is MTN’s fastest growing unit, increasing revenue 20% in the year to December, accounting for R11 billion of the company’s full-year revenue of R121.9 billion. It has 34.6 million of MTN’s 164.5 million subscribers, growing 16.6% in the year despite more than 100% penetration.
Last month, ITWeb reported on MTN’s resolve to retain its stake and presence in the Middle Eastern country, despite pressure from anti-Iran group Unite Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) to terminate its business dealings there. Save for the imposition of sanctions by the South African government, said MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa, the firm would continue its Iranian dealings.
In letters to MTN earlier this year, UANI informed Dabengwa that the Iranian government, MTN’s partner in MTN Irancell, used the network to monitor and track Iranian rebels and disrupt the communications of Iranian citizens protesting against the repressive regime.
At the time, Dabengwa said it was a “reality” that interception equipment is installed on cellular networks in most countries. He said MTN had no control over such equipment when it is on the government’s behalf.
In its court application, Turkcell claims MTN “offered the advantage to Sairan (a state-owned defence company) that it could provide access by the Iranian Ministry of Defence to MTN’s devices once MTN was partnered with an Iranian company and running a private cellular network in Iran”. The access, contends Turkcell, would facilitate eavesdropping technology on MTN devices.
Maynier says concerns around MTN’s role in possibly aiding surveillance of political opposition in Iran are compounded by reports that MTN-Irancell (in which MTN owns a 49% stake) purchased monitoring systems from a variety of entities between 2008 and 2011. He adds: “According to former employees of MTN-Irancell, law enforcement officers and security agencies had access to the information in the possession of MTN-Irancell.”
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