Washington, DC – Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada who was arrested in 2008 when visiting his dying father in Iran, may soon be executed because he designed social networking software to upload and share images.
Malekpour’s case is the first to be handled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s cyber crimes unit, which has accused the web programmer of masterminding a network to share pornographic images because his software was used by some such websites.
“Malekpour’s case is special,” said Maziar Bahari, a former Newsweek reporter who was imprisoned during Iran’s post-election crackdown, speaking with the Toronto Star. “He is among the first that the Revolutionary Guard’s cyber crimes department arrested. They even mentioned him several times (in the media), saying that they have the technological savvy to hack into websites and lure people back into Iran. He’s like a trophy for them.”
Born in 1975 in Iran, Malekpour studied at Iran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology, and moved with his wife to Canada in 2004 to work as a freelance web programmer. He returned to Iran in 2008 to visit his dying father and was arrested by Iranian intelligence services three days later. He was kept in solitary confinement in Evin prison for several months and denied legal representation. He was not even allowed to attend his father’s funeral.
A year after his arrest, he confessed on Iranian national TV to a series of crimes in connection with charges of sharing illicit images; however, he later retracted the confession in a letter from prison and said it was “extracted under pressure, physical and psychological torture”.
In December 2010, on the basis of his televised confession he was convicted of designing and moderating the biggest network of pornographic Farsi websites and sentenced to death. In June 2011, Iranian Supreme Court annulled the verdict but in January 2012 the verdict was upheld and the court rejected an appeal made by his lawyers. Upholding his death sentence, nonetheless, is mainly due to the complexity of his case. It must be taken into account that the Iranian law for cyber crimes lacks clarity and this facilitates the use of the capital punishment.
The fact that the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence apparatus arrested Malekpour and has made the charges against him may be telling. Since Malekpour’s arrest, the Guards have accelerated their assault on the Internet and widely publicized his case as the first triumphant mission of their newly-established cyber crimes bureau. According to Malekpour’s wife, his ties to the West and his expertise in web designing made him the perfect bait for them.
From the Guards’ perspective, the harshness of the verdict may intimidate others from committing internet-related crimes that, according to the regime, include using social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. In the run-up to Iranian parliamentary election, the regime’s campaign against cyber crimes has enormously escalated and Malekpour faces imminent danger of execution.
To take action, please send a letter through United4Iran’s campaign to save Saeed Malekpour.