EDITORIAL: Iran: Death for blogging

Tehran uses trumped-up porn charges to target netizens

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Iran has an easy way of dealing with people who do things online that displease the mullahs. Kill them.

For four years, computer programmer and Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour has languished in an Iranian jail cell. He was arrested in 2008 while in the country to visit his ailing father. The regime charged him with “spreading corruption,” a catchall crime that can apply to many supposed affronts to the Islamic theocracy, but in this case referred to allegedly spreading pornography. A third party had used software Mr. Malekpour developed to upload graphic images without his knowledge.

At his trial, Mr. Malekpour confessed to abetting the act, but he later contended the confession was coerced. “A large portion of my confession was extracted under pressure, physical and psychological torture,” he wrote in a letter smuggled from prison, “threats to myself and my family, and false promises of immediate release upon giving a false confession to whatever the interrogators dictated.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Iran’s Supreme Court later ordered a review, and last October, the death sentence was reaffirmed, with 7 1/2 years in prison added for good measure.

Last week, it was learned that Mr. Malekpour’s case file had been transferred to the Circuit Court for Execution of Sentences and his execution could take place at any time. Mr. Malekpour’s family sent a letter regarding the case to United Nations human rights commissioner Navi Pillay. The U.S. State Department formally protested the sentence against Mr. Malekpour and called on Iran to allow unfettered access for U.N. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed to investigate widespread allegations of human rights violations in the Islamic republic.

Mr. Malekpour is one of several people who have been imprisoned on charges of “polluting the minds” of Iran’s youth. Vahid Asghari is an Iranian blogger who faces death for anti-government agitation and insulting Islam, also allegedly for uploading pornography. In January, the regime arrested at least six journalists, bloggers and other “netizens” as part of a crackdown ahead of the March parliamentary elections. Two of them, Parastoo Dokouhaki and Marzieh Rasouli, are female journalists who have been active in promoting the rights of Iranian women. Another arrestee, Mohammad Solimaninya, ran a social-networking website called u24 and designed and hosted websites for Iranian intellectuals and civil-society organizations. The charges against him haven’t been made public, but anyone who facilitates communication among thoughtful people in Iran is a threat to the mullahs.

Independent Iranian journalists are a courageous lot to begin with. According to the latest press-freedom index from Reporters Without Borders, Iran ranks 175th out of 179 countries, edging out only Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea on the scale of oppression. Death sentences for Mr. Malekpour and Mr. Asghari are intended to send a message to others that building informal information networks on the Internet won’t be tolerated. While the world is focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its military support for the Assad regime in Syria and its attempts to use its international terror network to bomb Israeli diplomats, it should not forget the Iranians languishing in cells whose offense to the regime was the desire to tell their country’s increasingly tragic story.

The Washington Times

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