Saeed Malekpour, seen with wife Fatima Eftekhari, is a Canadian permanent resident on death row in Iran.
By Olivia Ward Foreign Affairs Reporter
“The branch of the Supreme Court responsible for (his) case announced to one of his lawyers that the court reached the decision to have the death sentence carried out,” says Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a Toronto-based human rights activist.
“Saeed Malekpour is in imminent danger of execution.”
Malekpour, a 35-year-old permanent resident of Canada, was awaiting citizenship when he was arrested.
“Canada condemns Iran’s reported decision to execute Mr. Malekpour,” said a statement issued Tuesday by Foreign Minister John Baird’s office.
“Sadly, his case is far from the only example of Iran’s utter disregard for human life. The regime in Tehran frequently ignores principles like due process for its citizens domestically, and international human rights obligations generally.”
An engineer and web designer, Malekpour was visiting his gravely ill father in Tehran when he was arrested in 2008 and charged with “insulting and desecrating Islam.” He was accused of creating a site Iran claims was used to post “pornographic” images.
Human rights monitors believe that Malekpour, one of a number of people held on Internet-related charges, is trapped by a convoluted justice system that is manipulated by rival factions in Iran.
Iranians Vahid Asghari and Ahmad Reza Hashempour are also awaiting execution on Internet charges, as Tehran takes increasingly draconian measures to silence suspected dissidents ahead of a March election.
A Canadian citizen, Hossein Derakhshan, known as the “blogfather” for his part in introducing blogging to Iran, is serving a 20-year sentence on similar charges. Meanwhile, Toronto shoe salesman Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, also a Canadian citizen, is on death row on espionage charges.
Malekpour, who wrote a letter from Evin Prison describing interrogation under torture and forced confession, spent 19 months in solitary confinement. Sources say he has been singled out for especially harsh treatment.
Nevertheless, his original death sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court last summer. But later — possibly under political pressure — the top judicial body announced that its verdict was inconclusive and the case should be reviewed and investigated. It handed the case back to the court that had originally sentenced Malekpour, and it confirmed his sentence without review.
His lawyers appealed again to the Supreme Court for an investigation, which was rejected Monday.
“The lawyers have not yet received the ruling in writing, but they did confirm the death sentence verbally,” said Yazdi. “Only the united efforts of the international community can help to save his life.”
Iran’s court system is weighted against people accused of crimes. “Political suspects received grossly unfair trials in which they often faced vaguely worded charges that did not amount to recognizably criminal offences,” said a 2011 human rights report by Amnesty International.
“Frequently they were convicted in the absence of defence lawyers on the basis of ‘confessions’ or other information allegedly obtained under torture in pre-trial detention.”
In his letter, Malekpour said his torture included “severe beatings with batons, cables and fists.”
Advocates are particularly concerned for his life because his case has been widely publicized in Iran. They fear he will be used as an example to silence others who may use the Internet to spread dissent or subvert Iran’s strict moral code.
They are also worried by the escalating number of people executed in Iran, some 600 in the past year. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, it has held periodic mass executions to create fear among suspected enemies of the regime.