Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of Tehran last Friday after Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential cleric and former president, publicly called for the government to release those detained in protests following the controversial June presidential election. But even as those demonstrations were underway, a different kind of protest was unfolding as companies deemed complicit in the post-election crackdown were targeted with a boycott.
An opposition daily, Etemad Melli, reported that Nokia sales have been slashed in half because the Finnish firm provided Iran Telecom with the ability to monitor local communications from fixed and mobile phones late last year. For members of the “Twitter Revolution” who used their phones to tell the outside world of the protests and government crackdowns, there is a very real worry that their texts and videos will get them thrown in jail. An online watch group, OpenNet Initiative, recently reported that arrested activists were shown transcripts of their texts.
Nokia, which dominates the Iranian mobile phone market, has defended the monitoring equipment sale. Ben Roome, a spokesman for Nokia Siemens Network, a joint venture of the electronic giants, told Radio Free Europe: “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.” The explanation isn’t winning back customers. Some Tehran phone shops reported that, even though Nokia prices have fallen, people are exchanging their Finnish phones for other brands.
The cellphone firm isn’t the only target of frustrated opposition supporters. Commercials on state-run TV all but evaporated after protesters urged boycotts of advertised products. There are even reports of people shifting accounts from government to private banks. And the pressure is starting to show. Iran Telecom just doubled the cost of texts, in an apparent effort to keep revenues up or, perhaps, to slow the spread of the boycott.