Iranian court upholds Web programmer's death sentence

Convicted of developing software used on a porn site, Iran's Supreme Court confirms the death sentence to Saeed Malekpour.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Saeed Malekpour's Facebook page photo.

The execution of Iranian Web programmer Saeed Malekpour may be imminent.

The death sentence of Malekpour, who was convicted of "insulting and desecrating Islam" for developing software used by porn sites, was confirmed this week by Iran's Supreme Court. The software that Malekpour developed enables photos to be uploaded online and, according to Amnesty International, was used by a porn site without his knowledge.

Malekpour, 35, was a permanent resident of Canada when he was arrested during a visit to Iran in October 2008. According to The Guardian, after spending more than a year in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison without access to a lawyer, Malekpour confessed on state television that he was connected to a porn site.

Based on these TV confessions, an Iranian court sentenced Malekpour to death in October 2010 for "designing and moderating adult materials online." After the Iranian Supreme Court later reviewed the case, Malekpour's death sentence was upheld in November 2011, according to Amnesty International.

During this time, Malekpour rescinded his confessions in a letter he sent from prison that said that he was physically and psychologically tortured and was promised an immediate release if he gave a false confession.

"They asked me to falsely confess to purchasing software from the UK and then posting it on my website for sale," Malekpour wrote in his March 2010 letter. "I was forced to add that when somebody visited my website, the software would be, without his/her knowledge, installed on their computer and would take control of their webcam, even when their webcam is turned off. Although I told them that what they were suggesting was impossible from a technological point of view, they responded that I should not concern myself with such things."

Malekpour's death sentence comes at a time when Internet limitations in Iran are ever increasing. Human rights groups have criticized the country's government for monitoring its Web users, blocking Web sites, suppressing bloggers, and most recently making Web surfing at Internet cafes illegal.

"The authorities must also not unlawfully limit the right to freedom of expression with vaguely worded charges," Amnesty International's Ann Harrison said in a statement today.

Several human rights organizations, Canadian parliamentary officials, and the cyber community have spoken out against Iran's decision to execute Malekpour. A "Free Saeed Malekpour" Facebook page has been created that people can "like," along with two Wordpress blogs, and a petition that people can sign to demand Malekpour's release.