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

In response to Mazrui’s letter and a similar letter from Fereshteh Ghazi’s husband, Ahmad Mohammad-Bayglu, President Khatami instructed a Presidential Commission for the Investigation and Supervision of the Execution of the Constitution (Presidential Commission) to investigate the allegations of abuse in the Internet-related arrests. At the Commission’s first hearing, held on December 25, 2004, former detainees, including Hanif Mazrui and Fereshteh Ghazi, testified about their arrests and detention. At the second hearing, on January 1, 2005, after all four prisoners had been released, Mirebrahimi and Memarian testified before the Presidential Commission and promptly retracted their letters.294 The Presidential Commission later reported that even if a portion of what was said at the meetings were true, it is a sign of a dangerous process in following up crimes and criminals and the prosecution, that is against the Constitution and the Iranian justice system, and encourages all decisive authorities to attempt and resolve it … Furthermore, it is noteworthy that most of these wrongful acts have occurred in the Amaken office of the NAJA and the detainment facilities belonging to the Law Enforcement, and according to the governing law of the Law Enforcement, they belong to the Ministry of Interior.295

The bloggers later appealed to the Article 90 Commission of the Majlis, and through continued pressure were able to attend a meeting with the head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi.296 Shahroudi told them to ignore any further summonses, and on January 12, it was announced that Shahroudi had established a three-member commission to investigate and probe the detentions.297

On April 20, 2005, a judiciary spokesperson confirmed that the confessions of Rafizadeh, Mirebrahimi, Memarian and Tamimi had been coerced. However, on February 3, 2009, following closed trials, all four were sentenced to prison terms, fines and floggings.298 Their appeals are pending. Rafizadeh, Mirebrahimi, and Memarian have left Iran.

Mojtaba Saminejad, a student and blogger who posted several articles regarding the arrest and detention of many of the cyber-journalists, was arrested on October 31, 2004 and held for 88 days in solitary confinement, interrogated and tortured. He was released on January 27, 2005 and, though not charged, he remained under investigation and was warned that he would be detained again if he chose to be represented by Shirin Ebadi or Mohammad Seifzadeh, two prominent defense lawyers and human rights activists.299

Immediately after his release, Saminejad sought the help of Seifzadeh, and on February 1, 2005, he was summoned by telephone and detained.300 This time, he was indicted for apostasy, insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic (under Article 514 of the Penal Code), acting against national security (Article 500), and a combined charge of having illicit affairs, promoting corruption and prostitution, and causing confusion among the masses (Articles 673, 639 and 698). These charges were distributed among Branch 78 and Branch 1084 of the Provincial Criminal court, and Branch 13 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court.

The first charge, apostasy, carries the death penalty under Sharia law, but there is no crime of apostasy in the Islamic Penal Code. This concerned the Chief Judge of Branch 78:

The Chief Judge of the branch, who was a learned, humane and enlightened cleric rejected the case and noted that in the first instance, there is no crime of apostasy pursuant to [Article 36 of the] Constitution and the Islamic Penal Code that provides the legal definition for crimes and punishment. He then indicated that if [the Prosecutor’s Office] wishes to investigate the matter, they must issue a charge sheet and transfer the case to a competent court. (Judge Moqaddas and his crew didn’t know this basic fact—a fact that even a first year law student should know. Or perhaps they did know and didn’t care to uphold it, which is even worse).301

The indictment was amended, and Saminejad was charged under Article 513 for insulting the Prophet, a crime that carries the death penalty. His initial trial date was set for June 21, 2005, and over the course of several other sessions, the prosecution was asked to both explain the charge and provide evidence of the crime. 302 It responded by misquoting Saminejad’s blog and accusing him of denying the existence of the 12th Imam. Saifzadeh recounts the court’s response:

The Chief Judge turned to the Prosecutor’s representative and said, “Sir, so what you are saying is that he insulted the Twelfth Imam and denied his existence despite the fact that millions of Sunni Muslims don’t believe in the Twelfth Imam? Are these [Muslims] apostates? Have they insulted the Prophet? Should they be executed?” He then pointed out that the indictment only mentioned the charge of “insulting the prophet,” and that the charge of apostasy had already been rejected.303

Saminejad was acquitted of insulting the Prophet, and on July 3, 2005, Branch 78 ordered his release. Though the Islamic Revolutionary Court acquitted him of actions against national security, it found him guilty of insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. In addition, Branch 1084 sentenced him to ten months for causing confusion among the masses. After 18 months’ imprisonment, Saminejad was granted home leave in June 2006. He was formally released on September 12, 2006.

[294]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[295]Letter from Dr. Hossein Mehrpour to Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, (Jan. 4, 2005) (on file with the IHRDC).
[296]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[297]Barguzariyih Dadgah-i Chahar Ruznamihnigar dar 26 Tir [The Trial of Four Journalists Convenes on July 17th], ROOZOLINE, 18/4/1386 [June 26, 2007], available at http://www.roozonline.com/archives/2007/07/_26_1.php (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[299]Bazkhaniyih Parvandihyih Mojtaba Saminejad Tavasot-i Vakil-i U, Mohammad Seifzadeh [A Review of Mojtaba Samineja’d Case by his Attorney Mohammad Seifzadeh], ROOZONLINE, [undated], available at http://man-namanam.blogspot.com/ (Sep. 22, 2005) (last visited Apr. 27, 2009) [hereinafter Seifzadeh post].
[300]While detained, Saminejad's blog address was transferred to the blog of a group of hackers linked to the Iranian radical Islamist movement Hezbollah (http://irongroup.blogspot.com). After his release, he relaunched his blog using a new address (http://8mdr8.blogspot.com), which may have been the reason for his re-arrest. Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, Blogger Mojtaba Saminejad gets early release after nearly 18 months in prison, (Sept. 19, 2006), available at http://www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=18910 (last visited Apr. 26, 2009).
[301]Seifzadeh post, supra note 299.

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Tagged as:

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