How to Get Sentenced to Death in Iran

Imagine a world free of irony and satire, one where dissent and public discourse was governed by such equivocal statutes that their mere utterance or reproduction thereof carried the same punishment as murder or rape. Publish an image like the one above - or embed a link to an image like the one above, or post a comment supporting an image like the one above - and you would find your self stripped of your property, locked in solitary confinement and forced to endure a grotesque parody of due process to decide your fate.

For the hundreds of thousands of Iranians on social media, it can take less than an image like the one above to be found in violation of state law. In the case of Soheil Arabi, a blogger who operated several Facebook pages which are alleged to have violated Branch 76 of the Tehran Criminal Court's obscenity laws, the result has been a death sentence handed down on September 16th - a sentence Arabi had until today to appeal.

It's a story which has garnered virtually no major media coverage which is not surprising, considering the temerity with which American, Canadian, and British media engage the horrifying elements of the Islamic world, that is, if they address them at all. One perverse but positive result of the rise of ISIS is the group communicates clearly and in plain English when addressing threats to the West, and command the attention of CNN.

You may be thinking that comparing Iran to ISIS is not entirely fair or accurate. Except that the goal of ISIS is to establish the same system of Sharia Law in an Islamic Caliphate not unlike the ramshackle system established under the 1979 takeover by the Islamic Republic. Iran abandoned almost all its secular government and judicial infrastructure and embraced Sharia law for 30 years under the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic Republic serves an example of a major middle eastern state - one in which men are treated like animals, and women regarded as even less - from which we can extrapolate an idea of what ISIS seeks to install on a national level.

Although the Iranian system has evolved away from some of the most apparent Sharia traditions, the judicial system still maintains strict blasphemy laws, the interpretation of which can be very broad indeed. The charges against Soheil Arabi as detailed by the Independent include an obtuse condition for what could loosely be called leniency:

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

In the idealized Caliphate envisioned by ISIS, one would have trouble imagining so forgiving a condition as article 264. For the citizens of Iran, no outside influence is needed in promulgating restrictions to freedom of expression. As recently as last month, one Grand Ayatollah, a man named Nasser Makarem Shirazi, declared that access to high-speed internet and 3G is not only "against Sharia," but a crime "against moral standards." Having posted the remarks on his website (the irony evidently lost on the man), one could dismiss them for the crack-pottery they are except the reality is such insistence that "Judicial officials must not remain indifferent about this vital issue," carry the weight of his station needed to find a receptive audience.

In the meantime, Soheil Arabi is standing trial on further charges of "propaganda against the state." His execution date is yet to be scheduled.

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