Ericsson rejects claims of aiding Iran

On Tuesday Swedish telecom giant Ericsson rejected claims that the company has sold tracking equipment to mobile operators in Iran.

What Ericsson did deliver to Iranian mobile operator Irancell was a system for ”location based charging”, used to determine where the caller is when making a phone call on his mobile, in order to be able to charge the right tariff, according to Ericsson press spokesperson Fredrik Hallstan.

”But this system doesn’t make it possible for anyone to actively track the caller in real time,” Hallstan told The Local.

The rejection follows claims from news agency Bloomberg that Ericsson has been providing Iran with technology capable of tracking dissidents through their mobile phone activity.

Following the demonstrations around the time of the presidential election in 2009, many Iranian protesters were rounded up by police and imprisoned for speaking up against the regime.

Bloomberg has gone through over one hundred documents and interviewed a large number of people and claim that Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson, along with two European telecom companies, provided the Iranian government with the means to monitor these protesters through their mobile phone and email activity during that same period of time.

However, according to Hallstan, the only other documents that Bloomberg journalists could have seen would be where local representatives have joined into discussions in a tender process but where the company has chosen to pull out.

”There was a text messaging service under discussion at one point that we chose to pull out of. We bid on it together with a partner and withdrew from the tender as we did not want to integrate our standard system into their solution,” Hallstan said.

He also added that Ericsson has been reducing their commitment in the country gradually over the last few years.

”But we have been operating in the region for 30 years,” he said.

Hallstan thinks it is natural that Ericsson will continue to maintain existing systems in Iran.

”It is in everyone’s interest that you can call in and out of the country,” he said.

Despite the wave of reactions that the Bloomberg report has unleashed in the media, Hallstan is confident about Ericsson’s role.

”Technology can always be put to the wrong use, but we have witnessed how telecommunications and social media are crucial for civil resistance, as could be seen for example during the Arab Spring, when it certainly furthered democratic developments,” Hallstan told The Local.

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Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews

An Iranian student planning on starting university in Sweden this autumn has told The Local he and many others risk being unable to take up their places after the Swedish embassy cancelled their visa interview appointments.

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer, fears he will not be able to start his course later this month. Photo: Private
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer from Iran, is due to start an MSc in Innovation and Industrial Management at Gothenburg University later this month, but before he can come to Sweden, he first needs to have an in-person physical interview at the Swedish embassy in Tehran. 
But after applying for an interview on July 23rd, he was informed on July 26th that the embassy had cancelled all scheduled visa interviews, and was not currently taking new appointments. The embassy also announced the cancellation of all appointments in a statement on its web page
“Such a decision will prevent us from travelling to Sweden on time, we may lose our offer of admission, which will profoundly affect our academic future,” Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer told The Local. 
“Also, it is worthwhile to mention that we have spent a considerable amount of time and money up to this point, which will be lost thoroughly by this decision.” 
Ansari has formed a Whatsapp group with roughly 70 Iranians who had been hoping to study in Sweden.
The students complain that even though it is less than two weeks before their classes are scheduled to start, and only a matter of days before they reach their tuition fee reimbursement deadline, they have not yet managed to obtain any indication of when or if their interviews would be rescheduled.

Ansari said that he felt Iranian students were being unfairly singled out as “Swedish embassies in many other countries, regardless of the intense Covid-19 pandemic, are fully active”. 
He said he and other students had repeatedly contacted Sweden's Migration Agency, the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Swedish embassy in Tehran, and its ambassador, without getting any indication of when or if interviews might be possible.  
“We have been told that the embassy ruled this policy as an internal resolution,” he said. “But unfortunately all our efforts so far have not yielded any results.”

A screenshot of an email, seen by The Local, sent to Amin by the Swedish Embassy in Tehran.

When The Local contacted the Swedish foreign ministry, a press officer suggested instead contacting the Swedish Migration Agency, suggesting they were responsible for student visas. 
But in an email to Ansari, the Swedish Migration Agency, said that embassy interviews were in fact the responsibility of the foreign ministry and could not be influenced by the Migration Agency. 
“The coronavirus pandemic has compelled embassies in certain countries to take measures to protect their visitors and staff, such as delaying appointments, and this is not something which the Swedish Migration Agency is able to influence,” the agency told Ansari in an email. 
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm told The Local that it had “a number of overseas students prevented from getting to Sweden”. 
“In most cases, this means that the foreign authorities need to open up to implement the biometric part of the entry permit,” it said.
“For this reason, KTH has extended the possibility for non-Europeans to begin their studies until September 7th. However, they must come physically to Stockholm and KTH. No one is allowed to start their studies at a distance.” 

Iran is by far country in the Middle East worst-hit by coronavirus, with leaked figures sent to the BBC's Persian service by an anonymous source indicating that almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to July 20th – triple the official figure of 14,405 reported by the health ministry.
Since the start of June, the country has been hit by a severe second wave of the pandemic, with as many people dying in mid-July as during the country's first peak in March.