UANI Calls on South Africa's MTN to Exit Iran, Where It Has Helped the Regime Crush Dissent, or Face Sanctions


June 6, 2013 

Contact: Nathan Carleton, [email protected] 

Phone: (212) 554-3296


UANI Calls on South Africa's MTN to Exit Iran, Where It Has Helped the Regime Crush Dissent, or Face Sanctions


New York, NY - On Thursday, one week before Iran's presidential election, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) called for sanctions to be imposed on South African telecommunications firm MTN for its business in Iran and its role in facilitating human rights abuses against the Iranian people.


MTN is the world's most egregious corporate actor when it comes to Iran, and is accordingly listed first on UANI's "Most Wanted" list. MTN is a 49% shareholder in MTN Irancell; the majority 51% is owned and controlled by the regime itself. During the 2009 Iranian presidential elections, the regime utilized MTN Irancell's network and technology to block and monitor the communications of dissidents, leading to the unlawful arrest, detention and torture of Iranian citizens. Shamefully, MTN also carried out orders from the regime to shut off SMS messaging and Skype.


Today, UANI is calling on MTN to immediately exit Iran, or face the full force of the U.S. government sanctions. MTN should be blacklisted for its violation of a number of U.S. sanctions. UANI is building on the efforts of like-minded legislators and policymakers, such as Senator James Inhofe, to take action against MTN.


In a letter to MTN Group President and CEO Sifiso Dabengwa, UANI CEO, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, wrote:


... MTN's poor record on human rights in Iran is already well established. During the 2009 election protests, MTN Irancell reportedly ordered its Chinese telecommunications partner Huawei to suspend text messaging and block the Internet phone service Skype on its network in order to disrupt communications among demonstrators. According to reports, MTN Irancell had also been supplied with the technology to filter, block and store text messages by the Irish telecom company AdaptiveMobile in 2008. Iranian security forces had access to this technology and misused it for their own repressive surveillance and censorship purposes. MTN Irancell was also reportedly capable of intercepting and recording telephone communications through equipment provided by Nokia Siemens Networks.


As Iranian citizens' opposition to the regime continued through 2009, MTN Irancell sought to acquire location-tracking technology in order to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of democratic dissidents. ... In 2011, Creativity Software reportedly sold MTN Irancell an even more advanced location tracking system that has the capability to record a user's location data every fifteen seconds, and generate reports of that individual's movements. Iran's security forces have access to this tracking technology and have misused it to locate, detain, and interrogate anti-government demonstrators. Even more troubling are reports that Iranian security officials are given open access to subscriber details at MTN Irancell's Tehran headquarters, which have been used to acquire information on democracy activists.



The situation could deteriorate even further for MTN if MTN Irancell were to be sanctioned under U.S. sanctions law pertaining to human rights in Iran. Given its facilitation of human rights abuses in Iran and violations of U.S. trade controls as documented above, it is quite clear that the MTN Irancell network should be blacklisted for its violation of a number of U.S. sanctions bills and presidential executive orders. These include The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 ("CISADA"), the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 ("ITRSHRA"), and Executive Order 13606, "Grave Human Rights Abuses Via Information Technology" in Syria and Iran ("GHRAVITY sanctions") ...U.S. politicians have already called on MTN Irancell to be held accountable. In a recent letter, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma requested that Jack Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, "recognize" that the MTN Group, "through its partial ownership of MTN Irancell, ... had played a role in human rights abuses." UANI is building on the efforts of Senator Inhofe, and is committed to building a coalition of like-minded legislators and policymakers that will take action against MTN Irancell.


UANI launched its MTN campaign in January 2012. In September 2012, the South African Mail & Guardian reported that MTN intimidated Johannesburg advertisers into not running a UANI billboard revealing MTN's human rights violations in Iran.


UANI has requested a response from MTN by June 10, 2013.


Click here to read UANI's full letter to MTN.

Click here to send a message to MTN.  

Click here to visit UANI's Iranian Regime Election Repression Toolkit.