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Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Iran's Response to the Internet

Article 14 outlaws the production, transmission and publication of “obscene” content.146 Article 14(c) criminalizes the commission of “crimes against morality” and other illegal or violent activities, and the incitement of others to commit such crimes.147 Article 17 outlaws the publication of “lies” that cause “public anxiety.” Article 18 provides that ISPs are punishable for failing to prevent the transmission of prohibited content. They are to report illegal content to law enforcement officials and do what is necessary to stop and, if possible, preserve the offending content.148

In December 2008, Tehran’s Public Prosecutor Mortazavi announced that his office had set up a special prosecutorial division for Internet and cyber crimes.149 The division was established in anticipation of the final ratification of the draft Code.150 Pursuant to Article 27 of the draft bill, the Judiciary must allocate special divisions of the Public and Revolutionary courts to prosecute Internet crimes.151 Legal scholars have criticized the government’s establishment of a cyber crimes office as premature, considering that there is currently no law on the books that specifically defines Internet crimes.152 The draft Code remains under review.

2.2.2. The Urgent Bill Regarding Punishment for Crimes Disturbing the Public Mind

Iran’s Majlis is also considering a bill addressing particularly heinous crimes intended to undermine public order and security. On February 22, 2009, a commission of the Majlis approved the Urgent Draft Bill Increasing Penalties for Crimes Related to Disturbing the Public Mind.153 Although the draft bill’s ratification is under review in conjunction with the Cyber Crime Penal Code, it is a separate piece of legislation intended to expand the categories of crimes that qualify someone as muharib154 or as mufsid-i fil arz (thereby subjecting the convicted person to capital or corporal punishment)155 under the Penal Code.156

Article 2(4) of the draft bill makes “establishment and commissioning of blogs and websites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy” a serious crime.157 The draft bill requires the creation of judicial commissions tasked with determining which crimes render a defendant muharib or as mufsid-i fil arz.158 Prosecutions of such crimes would be given priority in special divisions of the public and revolutionary courts.159 According to news reports, these commissions would provide official or legal legitimacy to existing organs within the Judiciary currently tasked with defining and identifying the aforementioned crimes.160

Iran’s Association of Human Rights Defenders released a statement indicating that the final passage of this law will “limit the freedom of expression, jeopardize citizen’s rights and increase the number of executions.”161 Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the draft bill on the basis that it is “based on ill-defined concepts and giv[es] judges a lot of room for interpretation … [and] would have disastrous consequences for online freedom.”162

[146]“Obscene” content is defined as material that is pornographic or sexual in nature. Id. art. 14.
[147]“Crimes against morality” include but are not limited to drug use, suicide and “sexual deviancy.” Id. art. 14(c).
[148]Id. art. 19.
[149]Layihihyyih Jarayim-i Rayanih’i dar Iran: Gam-i Aval [The Cyber Crimes Bill in Iran: The First Step], RADIO FARDA, 27/9/1387 [Dec. 17, 2008], available (in Persian) at http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f1_computer_crimes/477374.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009); see also Tashkil-i Dadsarayih Vijihyyih Jarayim-i Rayanih va Internet dar Iran [Establishment of Special Prosecutor’s Office for Cyber Crimes in Iran], RADIO FARDA, 11/9/1387 [Dec. 1, 2008], available (in Persian) at http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f3_internet_filtering_trial/475223.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[150]Cyber Crimes Penal Code (Draft), supra note 145, arts. 26-29.
[151]Id. art. 27.
[152]Iran az Barnamihyyih Barkhurd ba Saythayih “Ilhadi” Khabar Dad [Iran Announces Campaign Against “Apostasy” Sites]
BBC PERSIAN, 20/9/1387 [Dec. 10, 2008], available (in Persian) at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2008/12/081210_m_internet_mortezavi.shtml (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).

[153]Ra’y-i Comission-i Farhangiyih Majlis bih “Tashdid-i Mujazat-i Ikhlal dar Amniat-i Ravani” [The Cultural Commission of the Majlis Votes for the Urgent Draft Bill Increasing Penalties for Crimes Related to Disturbing the Public Mind], RADIO FARDA, 5/12/1387 [Feb. 23, 2009], available (in Persian) at http://www.radiofarda.com/content/F7_Iran_Parliament_/1497931.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009); see also Establishment of Special Prosecutor’s Office for Cyber Crimes in Iran, supra note 149.
[154]The Penal Code defines a muharib and mufsid-i fil arz (“one who sows corruption on Earth”) as “anyone who pulls weapons with the intention to intimidate, create fear, deny freedom to the public and disrupt public security.” Id. art. 183. Article 187 of the Code defines muharib and mufsid-i fil arz as “anyone or any group that plans to overthrow the Islamic Republic and for this purpose arranges weapons and ammunition, and also anyone who, with full awareness and free will, provides them with effective financial assistance, weapons and other necessary tools.”
[155]Articles 190-96 of the Penal Code lay out the various punishments for muharib and mufsid-i fel arz, which include execution, amputation and exile.
[156]The Cultural Commission of the Majlis Votes for the Urgent Draft Bill Increasing Penalties for Crimes Related to Disturbing the Public Mind, supra note 153.
[157]Tarh-i Tashdid-i Mujazat-i Ikhlal dar Amniyat-i Ravani [Urgent Draft Bill Increasing Penalties for Crimes Related to Disturbing the Public Mind] 1387 [2009], art. 2(4) (Iran), available (in Persian) at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-1157320 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[158]Id. arts. 9-10. Articles 183-188 of Iran’s Penal Code address the criteria used to convict someone of being a muharib or mufsid-i iel arz.
[159]Urgent Draft Bill Increasing Penalties for Crimes Related to Disturbing the Public Mind, supra note 157, art. 9; see also Establishment of Special Prosecutor’s Office for Cyber Crimes in Iran, supra note 149.
[160]See Sitadhayih Tashkhis-i Muharib dar Rahand? [Are the Offices Tasked with Identifying Muharib Up and Running?], ROOZ ONLINE, 5/12/1387 [Feb. 23, 2009], available (in Persian) at http://www.roozonline.com/archives/2009/02/post_11744.php (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[161]Establishment of Special Prosecutor’s Office for Cyber Crimes in Iran, supra note 149.
[162]Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, Parliament passes bill that would extend death penalty to include online crimes; court re-imposes death penalty on journalist (July 7, 2008), available at http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95122/ (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).

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Free Speech, Right to Protest, Cyber Journalism, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Free Association, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination