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Parliament passes bill that would extend death penalty to include online crimes; court re-imposes death penalty on journalist

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is alarmed by a draft law that would extend the death penalty to include crimes committed online. Passed by parliament on first reading on 2 July 2008, the proposed law would, for example, apply the death penalty to bloggers and website editors who "promote corruption, prostitution or apostasy."

"This proposal is horrifying," RSF said. "Iranian Internet users and bloggers already have to cope with very aggressive filtering policies. The passage of such a law, based on ill-defined concepts and giving judges a lot of room for interpretation, would have disastrous consequences for online freedom. We urge the parliament's members to oppose this bill and instead to start working on a moratorium on the death penalty."

The press freedom organisation added, "Death sentences were already passed last year on two journalists, Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed "Hiva" Botimar, after judicial proceedings marked by many irregularities. They have been held for more than a year without any certainty as to what will happen to them, and we urge the authorities to free them at once."

Submitted by a score of pro-government parliamentarians and consisting of 13 articles with the declared aim of "reinforcing the penalties for crimes against society's moral security," the bill was passed on first reading by 180 votes in favour, 29 against and 10 abstentions.

Article 2 of the bill lists the crimes that are already subject to the death penalty, including armed robbery, rape and creating prostitution networks. If the law is adopted, "the creation of blogs and websites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy" will also become capital crimes.

According to article 3, judges will be able to decide whether the person found guilty of these crimes is a "mohareb" (enemy of God) or "corrupter on earth." Article 190 of the criminal code stipulates that these crimes are punishable by "hanging" or by "amputation of the right hand and left foot."

A blogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, was tried before a Tehran court in 2005 on a charge of "insulting the prophets", which carries the death penalty. In the end, the court acquitted him.

Hassanpour, 28, and Botimar, 30, were sentenced to death on 16 July 2007 by a revolutionary court in the Kurdish city of Marivan on charges of "subversive activities against national security", spying and "separatist propaganda". Their convictions were overturned by the supreme court in Tehran on procedural grounds. The Marivan court re-imposed the death sentence on Botimar in April 2008. Hassanpour is awaiting a new trial.

Another journalist is also under sentence of death in neighbouring Afghanistan. Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, of "Jahan-e Naw" (The New World) newspaper, was arrested on 27 October 2007 in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and was given the death sentence on 22 January 2008, at the end of a trial held behind closed doors and without any lawyer acting for the defence.

Kambakhsh was arrested after downloading a controversial article from an Iranian website that quoted suras from the Koran about women. He was convicted of blasphemy although it was established that he was not the article's author.

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