Iranian Court Upholds Death Sentence for Software Designer


Last week, I blogged about protests in Geneva against the Iranian government's expanding program of Internet and satellite censorship. Taking place outside of Iran (and consisting of what appears to be a fairly small crowd from the pictures in this post), the protest was a mostly symbolic act—but we're likely to see more and stronger reactions to what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls his country's soft war against Western cultural influence in the months to come.

This week the Iranian supreme court upheld the death sentence handed down to an Iranian-born Canadian resident named Saeid Malekpour, who was arrested while he was inside Iran visiting his ailing father. Malekpour is charged with "insulting the sanctity of Islam" and "corruption on earth," two regularly invoked grounds for execution in Iran, because of photo-uploading software he designed that was then "used by a porn website without his knowledge," reports The Guardian.

This is equivalent to Mark Zuckerberg being put on trial because someone uploaded a nudie pic to his or her Facebook profile.

According to the Amnesty International report, there were at least 600 executions in Iran last year, compared with 43 in the United States. Last year Iranian-Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami was executed before Dutch officials could move for her release from Iranian custody, and recently, American citizen and former U.S. Marine Amir Mirza Hekmati was sentenced to death in Iran on highly questionable espionage charges.

Confessions from both Hekmati and Malekpour were broadcast on national television, but the letter Malekpour wrote after more than a year in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison sheds serious doubt on his and any other political prisoner's confession:

Some of the confessions they forced me to make were so ridiculous and far-fetched that they are not even possible. For example, they asked me to falsely confess to purchasing software from the UK and then posting it on my website for sale. I was forced to add that when somebody visited my website, the software would be, without his/her knowledge, installed on their computer and would take control of their webcam, even when their webcam is turned off. Although I told them that what they were suggesting was impossible from a technological point of view, they responded that I should not concern myself with such things.

He also elaborated on the conditions under which his confession was extracted:

While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with their fists, cables, and batons struck and punched me. At times, they would flog my head and neck. Such mistreatment was aimed at forcing me to write what the interrogators were dictating…Sometimes, they used extremely painful electrical shock that would paralyze me temporarily. Once in October 2008, the interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water.

Read Malekpour's full letter here (Persian and English).

The recent increase in Internet censorship, arrests, and intimidation are widely viewed as an effort by the government to preemptively suppress protests during the country's upcoming parliamentary elections in March. Considering the massive protests following the highly disputed 2009 presidential election, the results of which were apparently counted at miraculous speed and announced only two hours after ballots were cast, it's not hard to understand why the ruling powers might be a little nervous.