Imagine: you're a programmer who loves to code. You're studying at college, but you're also working as a freelance web developer. In what spare time you have, you polish and release your best work under an open source license, for the world to use. Your father has grown sick and may be dying, and so you take a short break to travel back to the country of your birth to visit him.
After the long flight, you take a walk along the streets of the capital — perhaps to shake off your jetlag. Two men approach you, and begin aggressively questioning you. You're confused. Are they police officers? Without warning, they grab you by the arm, handcuff you, and force you into an unmarked sedan. You are thrown into solitary confinement, and held there for months, out of contact with the outside world. You are tortured. You are told that you are a criminal mastermind behind a network of evil websites. If you confess, they say, you will be released. You confess. They show your confession on national television. Your mother has a heart attack when the confessions are shown. You are sentenced to death. Your father dies as you await your execution.
That is the horrific story of Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian resident and programmer who was seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guard in 2008. Following international pressure, Saeed's death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment, but he still remains in jail, thousands of miles away from his adopted country of Canada, trapped in Iran's notorious Evin prison. His case remains one of the most disturbing in our Offline list of technologists imprisoned for their work.
There is absolutely no evidence that Saeed had any connection to the pornographic websites his captors accused him of running. It is Saeed and his family's belief that he was selected for arrest because his name was on an open source image-uploading utility used by the site.
Saeed was also chosen for political reasons. At the time of his arrest, Iran's hardliners were working to exert control over the Net and its creators. Arresting a coder living in the West and accusing them of being a foreign spy running a Persian language porn network was intended to paint the Net as a channel for corrupt Western influence—and to demonstrate that no-one, not even coders living in a foreign country, could escape punishment.
Justin Trudeau Can Restore Saeed's Freedom
Saeed's freedom has always depended on the global attention his case has received. Every improvement in his condition has come as a result of international pressure. Now is the perfect moment to press for his release and return. Canada's new government, led by Justin Trudeau, has begun negotiating with Iran to normalize their diplomatic and economic ties. Making such an agreement conditional on Saeed's release would allow him to return home to his family in Canada.
Unfortunately, the Trudeau administration has barely mentioned Saeed's case since gaining power. While Canada's foreign minister, Stéphane Dion, has said that he will work to free other Canadian prisoners, he told Saeed's sister that he has "limited" ability to intervene in Saeed's case because Saeed is an Iranian citizen.
This is not true: when Saeed, who is a Canadian permanent resident, faced a death sentence, Canada's Parliament voted unanimously to hold the Iranian authorities accountable. Saeed has been listed as a concern of Canada numerous times in previous ministerial communications. In the past, Canada has adopted Saeed's plight as eagerly as Saeed had adopted Canada as his home country.
That's why we're asking Net users and creators around the world to write to Trudeau and Dion now, to ask them to fight for Malekpour's freedom. Just as Iran needs to hear Canada's voice in support of Saeed Malekpour, the Canadian government needs to know that the world has not forgotten Saeed.
Please take two minutes to join us in mailing Canada's leaders and ask them to include Saeed's case in their negotiations with Iran.
Saeed was punished for being a programmer, willing to share his work with the rest of the Net. Now the Internet has a chance to save Saeed.