09 July 2008

Death Sentence for "Bad" Bloggers in Iran

Blogging as one of the essential means of the “free speech” propagation in the modern society is seen as significant threat by the religious conservative Iranian government. About a year and a half ago, the Iranian government officially demanded that all bloggers, who are Iranian citizens, have to register and provide their names and addresses on a site called Samandehi. Many people have their reasons to believe that such a process would facilitate legal action against them, if they continue to post censorship-free publications on their blogs. Bloggers resisted and many published an “I do not register my blog/site” banner on their blogs. The Government then realized it cannot have real control of the situation in the blogosphere, or force bloggers to register. However, it is doing everything possible to shut down “inappropriate” blogs, and even jail the responsible bloggers.

There is a history of the bloggers’ prosecution in Iran as well. Blogging about subjects such as minority rights and freedom of speech and religion has already carried a risk. In 2005, blogger Mojtaba Saminejad was tried before a local court in Teheran charged with insulting the prophets, which carries the death penalty. He was eventually acquitted. Last year, two Kurdish bloggers were sentenced to death on charges of subversive activities against national security, spying and separatist propaganda.

To strengthen a legal base for the bloggers prosecution, on Wednesday, Iranian members of parliament voted to discuss a draft bill that seeks to “toughen punishment for disturbing mental security in society.” The text of the bill would add “establishing websites and weblogs promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy” to the list of crimes punishable by death. Apostasy is defined by dictionary.com as “a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.” but in Iran it could have a wide-ranging and flexible meaning. The government might simply use the bill at its convenience, physically removing non-cooperating bloggers from the map.

Blogging is wildly popular in Iran, where a new generation of young people frequently challenges the old, hyper-conservative religious government. The Committee to Protect Bloggers says that Iran is "among the worst offenders in terms of harassing, arresting and imprisoning bloggers, as well as students." The Iranian government has already blocked access to many respected sites as Facebook, Yahoo! and Flickr, among others.

Even the president if Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has his own blog. Is he in danger now as well?

Bazri, one of the Iranian bloggers, warns: “We should do our best to stop members of parliament from approving this draft bill. Tomorrow it will be too late. It is easy to accuse a blogger of apostasy and corruption. Let’s tell the Parliament that to think differently is not a crime that should be punishable by death.”

But who can tell Iranian government that they are wrong? Can international community do something to save our brothers-bloggers from prosecution? As small, as we can do, please support the case, whenever you can, wherever you go!

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