TeliaSonera, a telecom giant owned in part by the Swedish and Finnish governments, is again under fire for abetting an authoritarian regime.
The company owns a majority stake in Tcell, one of Tajikistan’s top mobile providers. Since fighting between local armed groups and government soldiers left dozens dead in Gorno-Badakhshan province on July 24, Tcell, along with Tajikistan’s other mobile, Internet and 3G providers, has blocked access to scores of websites under an order from the state communications agency that rests on shaky legal ground. Throughout the country, YouTube, Russian news agency RIA Novosti, and the independent Asia-Plus news agency, among others, remain blocked three weeks after the violence. And the government has kept most communications links with Gorno-Badakhshan severed.
From an August 14 Swedish radio report:
The head of information for TeliaSonera, Thomas Jönsson, tells Swedish Radio News that the closures followed orders from the Tajik government.
He says he naturally believes that information should be freely available. But when a country raises internal security issues, under the regulations they have to follow such requests.
However Johann Bihr of Reporters Without Borders says Tcell should have waited for court orders, under the international conventions that Tajikistan has signed.
The head of the Swedish branch of Amnesty International, Lise Berg, says their information confirms that Tcell is acting without court orders[.]
TeliaSonera released a statement on August 10 confirming the company had blocked communications access to Gorno-Badakhshan under government orders. “We hope the situation in Eastern Tajikistan soon improves so that we can resume our communication services in the region,” the statement said, noting the outages had affected approximately 115,000 customers, or 5 percent of Tcell’s subscribers.
TeliaSonera has faced criticism in the past for helping security services in countries notorious for human rights abuses, such as Azerbaijan, where it operates Azercell, and Belarus, where it holds a stake in Life. TeliaSonera controls subsidiaries in 15 countries, including Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Though some top rebels have surrendered, Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan, remains tense. According to an unconfirmed media report, President Emomali Rakhmon has cancelled an upcoming trip there due to concerns for his safety.