8 Years Later: Saeed Malekpour Is Still In An Iranian Prison Simply For Writing Open Source Software

from the free-saeed dept

We talk a great deal on Techdirt about the importance of free speech alongside the importance of not damning technological tools for the way third parties choose to use them. These matters can delve into minutiae in the American and Western forms of this conversation, with discussions about Section 230 protections and the like. But in other parts of the world, the conversation is much different.

Back in 2008 in Iran, for instance, the government there elected to imprison a Canadian resident of Iranian lineage, initially under a death sentence, but later commuting that sentence to mere life imprisonment. His crime? Saeed Malekpour created some open source code for sharing photos on the internet that others within Iran used for pornography.

Saeed was living in Canada as a permanent resident before he embarked on what was supposed to be a short trip to Iran in October 2008. While visiting his father in Iran, authorities decided to target Malekpour for his open source software program that others had used to upload pornographic images to the Internet.

His story is one of many that exemplify the fear Iranian authorities use to control the nation's Internet space. Saeed was charged with threatening the nation's Islamic ideals and national security via propaganda against the system, but evidence against him was scant. He spent time in solitary confinement and gave forced confessions — widely publicized on national television in 2010 — that were extracted under torture, including beatings, electrocution and threats of rape.

This follows the Iranian tradition of tamping down on the freedom and outcry of its own citizens by making examples of others. The guilt or innocence of these others is hardly relevant to this practice. In the case of Saeed, the target was the sharing tool, not the porn that others might have used it for. It's no mistake that Saeed's arrest came directly in the wake of the Iranian government's 2008 legislation blitz aimed at curtailing a free and open internet presence within its borders.

While groups like the EFF have been calling for his release for some time now, they are also currently running a campaign to help him through a letter-writing blitz targeted at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On Tuesday, the anniversary of Saeed's arrest, #FreeSaeed made its way around Twitter.

For those of us who believe in not only a free and open internet, but in the freedom to create and evolve digital tools -- without having to fear being targeted for the actions of others, particularly for benign actions like pornography -- it's a cause worth joining.


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  • icon
    tebee (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 3:46am

    What Software ?

    What was the software that he wrote ? I can't find any details to what it was.

    I guess the problem was it had a copyright or CC stapment with his name in ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:39am

      Re: What Software ?

      I am curious about this too - was it a site plugin or something? The name literally doesn't appear in any of the news articles as far as I see.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 7 Oct 2016 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re: What Software ?

        IIRC it was some plugin/software for managing an image gallery/carousel, something similarly generic. However, it seems a porn site(s) had acquired a copy and used this plugin/software (which is what people do with open source software), so Iran is making the claim he's supporting porn.

        It may have been taken down offline now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 3:48am

    'Interesting' standards

    Create a program that others use to share porn = Execution, 'graciously' lowered to 'just' life in prison.

    Torture, beatings, electrocutions and threats of rape to extract confessions = Just another day in Iran.

    I suppose when you've made it clear to the populous that dissent or questioning those in charge is punishable by death such trivialities as being logically consistent and/or not abhorrent psychopaths is seen as too much work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 4:50am

    As noted this is about sending a message. Remain in the middle ages where we, the cleric elite, can rule over you without the hassles of modern communications.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 7 Oct 2016 @ 5:29am

    As with any totalitarian government and government wannabes, (I'm looking at you Mafiaa!) the entire goal is controlling everything. Guilt, innocence, truth, lies are all irrelevant to them. Open software cannot be controlled, so it must be stamped out, by any means necessary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 6:25am

    We do the same thing in the states,

    except we do it for hardware engineering.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:03am

    and the lesson here is

    avoid travel to Iran, where pretty much anything you do in the modern, civilize, western world is considered illegal

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Oct 2016 @ 7:49am

    Tip of the iceburg

    Why stop at Saeed Malekpour's arrest? How about the people who wrote the operating system it was used on? Or the ISP, computer manufacturer? They should arrest Allah for making eyes that allow you to see pornography. Dirty, dirty eyes. Rip them out!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 7 Oct 2016 @ 10:20am

    Can we please stop pretending that these countries are "civilized"? Any civilian who goes to Iran, Iraq or pretty much any country in the middle east should have their head examined. I don't care if it is to visit family, any citizen of a western country who goes to the middle east risks being imprisoned on trumped up charges. Sure, it may not happen to everyone, or even to the majority of people, but you never know who they'll decide to arrest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 8 Oct 2016 @ 7:57am

    Hypocritical

    Arrested for helping spread porn and whilst in prison threatened with rape? Am I seeing a double standard here or did I miss something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 10 Oct 2016 @ 5:51am

    Benign?!

    I wouldn't call pornography "benign," Tim.

    That said, I've got a lot of sympathy for Saeed; all he did was create a sharing tool. It's not his fault if other people used it to share items the government doesn't want shared.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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