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

The criminalization of all criticism of the Islamic Republic fails to meet any definition of “necessity” under Article 19, paragraph 3 of the ICCPR as defined by the HRC.118 Paragraph 3 provides that restrictions must be provided by law and be necessary for the respect of the rights and reputation of others or for the protection of national security.119 In Kim v. Republic of Korea, the HRC upheld a man’s right to distribute material labeling the South Korean government, among other things, a “military-fascist regime.”120 It explained that South Korea had failed to establish that his actions posed a serious threat to national security,121 even in light of the fact that he had previously been convicted of participating in illegal demonstrations and instigating acts of violence.122

Likewise, even if prevention of insults of the Supreme Leader were a legitimate interest of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the scope of restrictions on expression must be proportional to the value of that interest.123 In a case involving several news articles criticizing the President of Angola, the HRC explained that prison sentences for insulting the symbols of the state (such as the President) cannot be considered proportionate since the individuals, whether alive or dead, are considered public figures and are therefore subject to criticism and opposition.124 Thus, it was a violation of international law to charge Rafael Marques de Morias with “defamation and slander against His Excellency the President of the Republic” based on several articles accusing the Angolan President of destroying the nation, and promoting incompetence, embezzlement and corruption.”125

The HRC has found that laws criminalizing expression stifle political discourse126 and has urged states to abolish them and to find other means to ensure accountability of the press.127 Echoing this view, in 2004, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression urged Iran to refrain from punishing the peaceful expression of opinion with prison sentences.128 He explained that the proper tools for dealing with abuse of the freedom of expression are civil suits and that, while prison terms are clearly disproportionate, floggings are even more so and can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture.129

2.1.3. Other Laws

The Special Rapporteur also noted that, in addition to running afoul of the Press Law and the Penal Code, expression in Iran is prosecuted under the Preventative Restraint Act.130 This law, passed in 1960 to deal with dangerous criminals and repeat offenders, has been used repeatedly to ban publications for indefinite periods of time.131 Article 1 provides that courts may impose restraints to prevent the repetition of crimes in the cases of dangerous criminals. Dangerous criminals are persons whose background and personalities, as well as crimes and manners in which they were committed, raise the chances that they will become repeat offenders. A measure for preventative restraint can only be taken after a person has committed a crime.132

[118]Rafael Marques de Morais v. Angola, Communication No. 1128/2002, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/83/D/1128/2002 ¶ 6.8 (2005) [hereinafter Morias v. Angola].
[119]ICCPR, supra note 24, arts. 19(3).
[120]Keun-Tae Kim v. Republic of Korea, Communication No 574/1994 U.N Doc. CCPR/C/64/D/574/1994 ¶ 10.4 and 12.5 (1999) [hereinafter Kim v. Republic of Korea]. See also Dergachev v. Belarus where the HRC found that a poster instructing fellow citizens to “Stop listening to lies” of the government was well within the rights of an individual. Alexandre Dergachev v. Belarus, Communication No. 921/2000, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/74/D/921/2000 ¶ 2.1 (2002).
[121]Id. ¶ 10.4..
[122]Id. ¶ 4.2.
[123]Morias v. Angola, supra note 118 ¶ 6.8.
[124]Id. ¶ 6.8. See also Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Tajikestan, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/84/TJK ¶ 22 (2005), where the HRC expressed concern regarding the existence of crimes such as “injuring the honour and dignity of the President,” which limit freedom of speech.
[125]Morias v. Angola, supra note 118 ¶ 2.6.
[126]Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Croatia, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/71/HRV ¶ 17 (2001).
[127]Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Zambia, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/ZMB/CO/3 ¶ 25 (2007).
[128]Ligabo Report, supra note 66, at 2.
[129]Id. ¶¶ 33-34.
[130]Qanun-i Iqdamat-i Ta’mini [Preventative Restraints Act] 1339 [1960], art. 1. (“Preventative restraints are measures taken by the court to prevent the repetition of the crime (offense or felony) in the case of dangerous criminals. Dangerous criminals are persons whose background and personality, as well as their crime and the manner in which it was committed, make them susceptible to becoming repeat offenders. Irrespective of their legal responsibility, a preventative restraint measure may only be issued by the court when the person has committed the crime.”).
[131]Ligabo Report, supra note 66, ¶ 42.
[132]Id.

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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