Any Canadian attempts to secure the release of a Richmond Hill, Ont., website developer facing the death penalty in Iran for allegedly designing “adult” websites are unlikely to be successful, says an expert in Middle East politics.
Saeed Malekpour, a 35-year-old Iranian-born Canadian resident, was sentenced to death Saturday by an Iranian judge after being charged with so-called “Internet offences,” including “taking action against national security by designing and moderating adult content websites,” as well as “agitation against the regime” and “insulting the sanctity of Islam.”
According to Aurel Braun, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, the Canadian government, like most western democracies, carries little weight with the fascist Iranian state, a standing made worse by the fact that Mr. Malkepour is not a Canadian citizen, but rather a permanent resident.
“It would be difficult even if this individual were a Canadian citizen and born in Canada,” Prof. Braun said.
“This is a government that has disregarded the norms of international behaviour for a long time, has persecuted many of its citizens and is holding American citizens who are accused of espionage,” he said, referring to Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 28, arrested in July, 2009, after they were detained while hiking along the Iraq border. They remain in Tehran and face charges of spying that carry a punishment of 10 years in prison.
“The United States is a superpower, and it isn’t able to free its own people.”
Mr. Malekpour came to Canada in 2004, after which he became a permanent resident. According to his supporters, who have set up a website campaigning for his release, Mr. Malekpour worked as a freelance web developer and programmer, and designed a program allowing photos to be uploaded and posted on websites.
“He loved computer and was pretty good at that,” Mr. Malekpour’s wife, Fatima Eftekhari, 32, told the Richmond Hill Liberal newspaper. She said her husband’s program, to which he attached his name as designer, was used to create part of an adult website, unbeknownst to him.
“It’s like a nightmare,” she said.
In October, 2008, Mr. Malekpour was detained in Iran after he returned to his country of birth to visit his ill father. He has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison ever since.
Prof. Braun suggested Mr. Malekpour may have been targetted by the Iranian regime for his web skills.
“The Iranian regime operates on the basis of trying to control information as much as possible and are therefore very susipicious of anyone who would have even the potential of being able to communicate or break through barriers placed on Internet communication,” he said.
In an open letter to prison officials in March, Mr. Malekpour says he was tortured and forced to make a false confession.
“While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons and their fists struck and punched me,” Mr. Malekpour wrote in the letter, posted on the website set up by his supporters. “Such mistreatment was aimed a forcing me to write what interrogators were dictating, and to compel me to play a role to a false confession in front of the camera based on their scenarios.
“Once … the interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water.”
He is the latest Canadian resident of Iranian descent to find himself facing punishment for supposed crimes against the state, joining Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, of Toronto, who is reportedly facing the death penalty, and Hussein Derakhshan, a Toronto blogger serving 20 years in prison.
Alain Cacchione, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Mr. Malekpour’s experience “appears to be another case in which someone in Iran is facing a death sentence after a highly questionable process.”
“Canada, in concert with the international community, is striving to hold Iran accountable for such human rights violations,” he said.