THEVERGE — A 30-year-old blogger and photographer has been sentenced to death in Iran for “insulting the prophet of Islam” on Facebook, drawing renewed attention to the country’s notorious human rights record. The man, Soheil Arabi, was convicted in a Tehran criminal court in August after admitting to posting the defamatory content. His lawyers argued that he had done so while “in poor psychological condition,” according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and that he was merely sharing views held by others. But Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction late last month and went a step further by adding a charge of “sowing corruption of Earth.” This charge is also punishable by death and cannot be pardoned, according to Arabi’s lawyer.
“Currently, there is no pardon.”
Human Rights Watch this week called on the Iranian government to halt Arabi’s death sentence, but government officials have shown no sign of leniency. “Currently, there is no pardon, and he’s been convicted of ‘corruption on Earth,'” Gholam Ali Mohseni Ejei, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, told reporters Monday. “But there has been a request for his case to be reviewed again.”
Iran has long taken a hard stance on online dissent, and appears to have stepped up its efforts in recent months. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 65 activists, journalists, and bloggers were currently in prison because of their online activities as of July. In May, seven people were arrested for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” and publishing the video online. They were given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and 91 lashes, on the basis that the video violated Iran’s Islamic laws. In July, eight Iranians were arrested and sentenced to a combined 127 years in jail on charges of colluding against the state and spreading propaganda on Facebook.
Nastaran Naimi, Arabi’s wife, claims her husband was forced to admit guilt under pressure from agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Both she and her husband were arrested in their homes in November 2013, and while Naimi was soon released, Arabi was held in solitary confinement for two months. In a separate case related to the same Facebook posts, he was sentenced to three years in prison on September 4th for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the leader.” One of the Facebook pages he operated was titled “The generation that no longer wants to be the burned generation.”
According to Amnesty International, Arabi’s conviction marks the second time that an Iranian has been sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammed. In August, an engineer named Rouhollah Tavana was sentenced to death after allegedly insulting the prophet in a video clip. Amnesty, like Human Rights Watch, has called upon the government to halt Arabi’s hanging and release him immediately.