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Nokia-Siemens Networks in Bahrain torture claim

Telco infrastructure vendors accused of supplying spying gear used during crackdown

Bahrain has been destabilised by protests
Bahrain has been destabilised by protests

Equipment sold and maintained by networking infrastructure vendors Siemens and Nokia-Siemens Networks was used during the detainment and torture of dissidents in Bahrain, it has been reported.

An investigation by Bloomberg Markets magazine claims that technology supplied by both companies to Bahraini authorities was used during a recent crackdown to track the locations of demonstrators via mobile phones. The publication alleges that Bahrain's government also used the technology to monitor and record individuals' text and phone conversations.

The claims were made by both activists involved in the recent unrest in the Gulf kingdom, and former employees at the implicated companies.

Bloomberg reported that 39-year-old activist Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar was shown transcripts of his own telephone conversations while in police detention between August 2010 and February 2011.

The technology was said to have been supplied by Trovicor, initially a division of Siemens, before becoming a part of Nokia-Siemens Networks in 2007. In 2009, the unit was sold off to Perusa Partners Fund.

The Bloomberg article alleges that similar surveillance technology, which can be installed at either telcos or internet providers, was also sold to governments in Egypt, Syria and Yemen.

Bahraini authorities have recently set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which will investigation allegations of human rights violations amid political unrest on the island. "The first things we're hearing is there wasn't systematic abuse or torture, but there were abuses by rogue individuals within the security apparatus," a government spokesperson told Bloomberg.

Following the publication of the Bloomberg story, Nokia-Siemens Networks issued this statement: "Nokia-Siemens Networks is aware of allegations that monitoring centres, used around the world by virtually every government for legitimate law enforcement purposes, have been abused in some countries.

Nokia Siemens Networks has stated clearly that such abuse, if it has occurred, is wrong and is contrary to its Code of Conduct and accepted international norms. The company condemns such misuse.

Partly as a result of the issues raised by the potential for misuse of its technology, Nokia-Siemens Networks is the first telecommunications equipment provider to adopt a human rights policy specifically addressing the issues of new technologies and privacy, access to information, and freedom of expression.

Much communications technology can be used either for good or ill, and the ultimate responsibility for its misuse must lie with those who misuse it."