By Olivia Ward
It was the verdict Fatima Eftekhari never wanted to hear.
Eftekhari, an Ontario physicist and research scientist, has lived in fear since her husband, Saeed Malekpour, was arrested after returning to his native Iran two years ago on a family visit. He was detained, tortured and forced to confess to offences ranging from insulting Islam to cyber crimes and plotting against the clerical regime.
“Saeed’s sentence was issued,” she said Monday. “He has been sentenced to death.”
Malekpour had worked in Canada as a computer technician, helping clients set up websites — which the Iranian authorities claimed was promoting “immorality.”
His conviction was a foregone conclusion. But the shocking verdict added a new ingredient to an already puzzling case.
According to his wife, Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards stepped in to add serious new charges and ensure a death sentence for a man who, she says, had no history of political involvement or of challenging the regime. He was now accused of spreading propaganda and “conspiring with his spouse against national security.”
“My only hope now is that the Canadian government will intervene,” said Eftekhari, who lives in Richmond Hill. “Saeed can do nothing but file an appeal to the Iranian Supreme Court.”
From Ottawa, a Canadian official said “the government is not sitting back.”
But Malekpour has two strikes against him. After he and Eftekhari emigrated to Canada in 2004, he became a permanent resident but is still awaiting citizenship — so Ottawa has no diplomatic right to demand access to him. Meanwhile, Iran refuses to recognize foreign jurisdiction over anyone born in the country.
At first the outcome of Malekpour’s “trial” looked more hopeful, although his lawyer was forbidden to meet with him or present evidence in his defence.
He faced a potential death sentence but, his wife said, the judge reassured the lawyer that Malekpour would not be executed. But when the Revolutionary Guards intervened, the case was notched up to a political crime that carried the death penalty.
“I think they wanted to make Saeed a lesson to show they exert control,” said Eftekhari.
Iran has been torn by political protests since a 2009 presidential election that was widely denounced as fraudulent.
Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute, an expert on the clerical regime, said the Revolutionary Guard’s interest in a seemingly low-level case is not surprising. Some believe it was sharpened by the publication of a letter Malekpour sent to Iranian officials detailing torture that included severe beatings with “cables, batons and fists.”
Khalaji said the Republican Guard had “created a section for dealing with websites that they believe do not respect Islamic law.”
“Any political or cultural website could be subject to censorship, and they have hired many (computer) engineers to find out who is organizing them,” he said.
“Even sites like MatchFinder are considered immoral. The names and pictures of people accused of being associated with them are (declared) against national security. Many of them are living overseas, so the authorities can’t get hold of them.”