Swedish-Finnish telecommunications company Teliasonera has expanded east during the last decade to find new markets. The company logo is everywhere: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. Human rights is a hot topic in Swedish politics, raising concern about cooperation between the company and less-than-transparent regimes. But as is so often the case, the debate never digs below the surface.
Our team decided to find those Teliasonera customers most vulnerable to oppression by these governments, all of which score at the bottom of freedom and democracy indexes. We sought out the union leaders, the political opposition, the journalists.
We reached out to colleagues and human rights groups across the globe through email, Skype and phone. In a couple of months of long hours and hard work, we produced a story encompassing all Teliasoneras business areas in the East. In every case we managed to show how the company failed to live up to its promises of respect for human rights and due process.
Angry customers talked about being subject to surveillance, positioning, wiretapping, faked SMS´s by the authorities. Worse, they suffered under the reign of security services of dictators like Ilham Aliyev, Islam Karimov and Alexander Lukashenko in Teliasoneras systems. Their security services have full access to Teliasoneras systems, to calls, text messages and billing data, our sources said.
People had been subject to murder attempts, arbitrary jailings, harassment and forced hospitalization in mental institutions. We were arrested while interviewing a young internet activist on a square in broad daylight in Lukashenkos Minsk.