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Iranian coder faces execution 'for building smut websites'

Supreme court backs death penalty for photo upload tool

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A programmer faces imminent execution in Iran after the country's supreme court upheld his conviction for "developing and promoting pornographic websites".

Saeed Malekpour, 36, was convicted on the basis of a televised confession he later retracted in a letter sent from prison. His family argue Malekpour made the supposed admissions of wrongdoing under duress; they say he had spent a year in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison, was beaten and was told of threats against his relatives.

According to his supporters, Malekpour's only crime was to write photo uploading software that was later used by pornographic websites without his permission. Malekpour, who has permanent residence status in Canada, has been in prison since he was arrested in October 2008 during a visit to see his terminally ill father.

An international campaign bolstered by fresh testimony from experts led to a decision by Iran's supreme court to suspend Malekpour's death sentence and order a judicial review back in June 2011. But the review produced no effect and Malekpour's death sentence was subsequently reinstated.

Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a human rights activist based in Toronto who has followed Malekpour's case, told The Guardian: "Saeed is in imminent danger of execution. He has never been provided with a fair trial at any point during this horrific and twisted ordeal.

"There are various discrepancies in Saeed's case file that were supposed to be reviewed and investigated by the revolutionary court, but the judge ignored the discrepancies and reissued the death sentence anyway."

Amnesty International reckons Iran executed at least 600 people last year. It added that Malekpour is being used as a political pawn by hardliners ahead of March presidential elections in the country.

Drewery Dyke, of Amnesty International, commented: "Malekpour is alleged to have created 'pornographic' internet sites and [is accused of] 'insulting the sanctity of Islam', for which he was charged with 'spreading corruption on Earth', a vaguely worded charge which attracted the death penalty in Iran.

"The use of vaguely worded charges is not new in Iran, but the allegation that these were carried out on the internet is. It is an unwelcome addition to the catalogue of ways in which Iran finds it can execute its own citizens.

"In advance of March's parliamentary elections, when you would expect the right to exercise one's freedom of expression to increase, this case exemplifies 'innovative' ways as to how Iran is setting itself against access to online information."

More details on the harrowing case can be found on a Saeed Malekpour campaign website, established by the programmer's friends and family, here and the Persian2English human rights site here. ®

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