What Moderation?

Iran Threatens to Hang Facebook Activist for Insulting Muhammad

Iranian leaders are threatening the imminent hanging of 30-year-old Soheil Arabi. His great crime? Posting on social media.

Many in the West talk of the “moderation” of Iran’s regime. Foreign Minister Mohamed Zarif flies around the world claiming that Iran is committed to peace, justice and human rights. That would come as news to the thousands of political prisoners languishing in Iranian jail for nothing more than advocating freedom and democracy.

Soheil Arabi is one of those activists whose Facebook posts landed him on death row. What was Arabi's great "crime"? He is charged with "spreading corruption on Earth," (mofsed-e-filarz), punishable by death in Iran.

Soheil was first arrested and sentenced to death in November 2013 on the charge of "insulting the Prophet" (sabb-e-nabi). Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran explains:

Anyone who swears at or commits qazf [false accusation of sexual offenses] against the Great Prophet [of Islam] (peace be upon him) or any of the Great Prophets, shall be considered as sāb ul-nabi [a person who swears at the Prophet], and shall be sentenced to the death penalty.

In Iran, there is no freedom of speech. Broadcasting is limited to one corporation, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), whose head is appointed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iranian newspapers are censored by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

The last refuge for Iranian activists is Facebook and the Internet. Facebook, despite being officially banned, has gained a lot of popularity among Iranians in recent years. They use clever circumvention tools to outfox the regime.

Soheil created his Facebook page in August 2012, naming it "a generation that does not want to be silent." He criticized the regime as the cause of socio-eco-political problems in the country.

The charge of mofsed-e-filarz was added to his case when the court deemed that he had insulted the Prophet on eight different Facebook pages that he administered.

It was then that his fate was sealed. Article 286 of Islamic Penal Code notes:

Any person, who extensively commits felony against the bodily entity of people, offenses against internal or international security of the state, spreading lies...that causes severe disruption in the public order of the state and insecurity, or causes harsh damage to the bodily entity of people or public or private properties, or causes distribution of corruption and prostitution on a large scale, shall be considered as mofsed-e-filarz [corrupt on earth] and shall be sentenced to death.

The problem is that in Iran, almost any criticism of the system can be regarded as "disrupting the internal security of the state," and punished by death. This article has been used to execute thousands of Iranian dissidents since the 1979 Revolution.

A few months ago, Iran executed Mohsen Amir-Aslani, who was charged with insulting the prophet Jonah. Another similar case was the Iranian blogger, Sattar Beheshti, who was tortured to death in November 2012 for criticizing the Islamic Republic of Iran on Facebook.

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Sharia law is taking lives in Iran, and the Islamic Republic has been tightening its grip on the Iranian people for 35 years. Iran is a perfect example of what a religious state is capable of, and why the ideas of democracy and freedom are not compatible with Sharia law.

A state that doesn't respect its people will not respect its neighbors either. The brutal Iranian theocracy is not only a threat to its own people but also a threat to the world. Pressuring the regime and saving Soheil Arabi's life is a matter of Iranian and global importance.

Mojtaba Safari is an Iranian blogger based in Canada since 2008.

Movements.org is a crowdsourcing platform created by Advancing Human Rights which connects activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help them.