Johannesburg - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has received a
request to investigate MTN Group [JSE:MTN] for human rights violations in Iran, its
spokesperson said on Tuesday.
MTN has been accused of facilitating the surveillance of Iranian opposition activists by allowing phones to be bugged.
Rival cellphone company Turkcell has also accused MTN of using bribery to obtain an operating licence for Iran.
The case has been brought before a court in the US.
According to court papers quoted on Monday by
Democratic Alliance spokesperson David Maynier, MTN "offered the advantage"
to Iranian state-owned defence company Sairan to provide access by the
Iranian ministry of defence to MTN's devices once the company was
running a private cellular network in Iran.
"The access would facilitate installation of
eavesdropping technology on MTN devices," Maynier quoted the court
papers as alleging.
"We have received a request from the DA to investigate
whether the MTN Group may be directly or indirectly responsible for
human rights violations in Iran," said SAHRC spokesperson Vincent Moaga.
The first stage of the investigation would establish
whether there had been prima facie violations of human rights and
whether MTN had a case to answer to.
It would also establish whether the SAHRC was the
correct body to deal with the matter, and what mechanisms were available
to conduct the investigation, Moaga said.
Maynier said his concerns about MTN's role were
compounded by reports that MTN-Irancell had purchased various monitoring
softwares between 2008 and 2011.
These included the purchases of a system to monitor
local voice calls from Nokia Siemens Networks in 2008, a system to
filter, block and store text message from AdaptiveMobile, and systems to
monitor the location of users from Ericsson in 2009 and Creativity
Software in 2009 and 2011.
The MTN Group owns 49% of MTN-Irancell through its subsidiary MTN International, Maynier said.
There was no evidence that MTN-Irancell was involved directly or indirectly in human rights violations.
But opposition members had been confronted by
intelligence officers with transcripts of their cellphone calls,
emails and text messages, said Maynier.
In a statement on MTN's website, the company states
that its role in widening access to mobile technology was a liberating
force for Iranians, regardless of political allegiances.
"On human rights, the group takes direction from and
adheres to the policies of both the South African government and the
"MTN seeks to ensure that our corporate values of
respect for human rights are reflected in the way we do business and we
expect all our partners to adhere to these fundamental principles," the
"We are subject to local legal requirements in respect of intercept and government access to data."
MTN spokesperson Xolisa Vapi referred requests for comment to the group's website.