The Star: Shaken by the Arab Spring’s drive for reform, rattled by mass protests in major cities and pummeled by sanctions over their nuclear program, Iran’s clerical leaders are lashing out at those they blame for defying the regime.
Lawyers, rights activists, journalists, students, bloggers and other critics have been hauled before the courts and jailed as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hardliners try to crush opposition voices, Human Rights Watch reports. And in what Amnesty International calls a “killing spree of staggering proportions,” the regime has paraded its toughness by executing more than 600 people including children in the past year for offences that range from drug trafficking, to terrorism, spying and sodomy.
Now a Canadian resident has been ordered to pay with his life for running afoul of the mullahs as they seek to suppress the Internet as well, the Star’s Olivia Ward reports.
Saeed Malekpour, an engineer and website designer who makes his home in the Greater Toronto Area, faces the death penalty for the catch-all crime of “insulting Islam.” His offence? Developing image-uploading software that was used — by others, he says — to post pornographic images. He was charged on a trip to Iran in 2008, and the country’s high court has just reconfirmed his death sentence. During his time in prison he says he was stripped by interrogators, beaten, flogged and threatened with rape.
Canadians who remember photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death in 2003 in a Tehran prison after covering a student protest, will not find Malekpour’s plight hard to believe. And he’s not the only Canadian on death row. So is Toronto resident Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, on spy charges.
The authorities may well be making an example of Malekpour to warn others — including political activists — away from using the Internet for unauthorized purposes.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has criticized Tehran’s “utter disregard for human life,” and Malekpour’s death sentence. But Ottawa has little leverage, given its fierce and justified criticism of Iran’s nuclear program and support for terror. Still, the Malekpour case has now become an international cause célèbre. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have all denounced his death sentence. Even if Malekpour were guilty as charged, his actions would not merit the death penalty in any credible justice system.
This case can only further discredit Tehran’s extremists in the eyes of Canadians and the world. Already, it has brought calls here for even tougher sanctions; former justice minister Irwin Cotler, who heads an interparliamentary group on human rights in Iran, has been particulary forceful. Regardless, Iran’s rulers should rethink this dubious conviction and rescind this brutal sentence.
Like so many others, Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution long ago turned sour. The country’s leaders delude themselves by imagining that they can repress dissidents endlessly. Things are especially harsh now as Iran prepares for parliamentary elections in March, and the leading factions try to outdo each other in rooting out enemies, perceived and real.
But every new political arrest, cruel interrogation, rigged trial and execution validates the reformist spirit of the Arab Spring. It is no insult to Islam to challenge repression. Iranians, too, are coming to recognize that.