Update: Saeed Malekpour escaped Iran while on furlough from prison and has returned safely to Canada.
In 2008 Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada, was preparing to join a master's program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. For the last three years, he had been working as a freelance website designer and programmer. He had recently written a utility to ease the uploading of photographs to websites.
That October, he traveled to Iran to visit his sick father. Three days after he arrived, plainclothes officers kidnapped him from Vanak Square in northern Tehran. They took him to a detention center and later Evin Prison, where he was beaten and tortured by a group who told him they were the "Revolutionary Guards Cyber Counterattack" team.
Malekpour was told his name had been found on software being used on pornography sites. They accused him of managing obscene websites. His later charges included "spreading propaganda against the regime," "insulting Iran's supreme leader and president," "contact with foreigners and opposition groups," and "blasphemy." Malekpour was tortured until he confessed to these crimes, and more.
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A year later, on the day of his father's funeral, these confessions — which he had been told would be kept confidential — were broadcast on Iran's TV networks. His mother suffered a heart attack as a result. In an open letter smuggled out of his prison, Malekpour explained how the confession was extracted:
Most of the time the tortures were performed by a group. While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with their fists, cables, and batons struck and punched me. At times, they would flog my head and neck. Such mistreatment was aimed at forcing me to write what the interrogators were dictating and to compel me to play a role in front of the camera based on their scenarios. Sometimes, they used extremely painful electrical shock that would paralyze me temporarily. Once in October 2008, the interrogators stripped me while I was blindfolded and threatened to rape me with a bottle of water.
Malekpour, his family, and human rights groups such as Amnesty believe that the Revolutionary Guards found Malekpour's name in the credits of a website that used his photograph upload utility, and targeted him based only on this information. He was kidnapped, imprisoned in solitary confinement, tortured, and humiliated because of his authorship of entirely benign software.
In October 2010 an Iranian court sentenced Saeed to death, in part for the charge of moderating multiple pornographic websites. Following the publication of Malekpour's letter and rising international pressure, the death sentence was put aside, and a new trial ordered. This new trial, according to one of Malekpour's advocates, Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, lasted "a few minutes". It was overseen by the same judge who managed the previous trial. Malekpour was once again denied access to a lawyer, and no new investigation opened. The judge again sentenced Malekpour to death.
In 2014, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, finally commuted Malekpour's death sentence to life in prison.
Last year, Malekpour was transferred to the general ward of Evin prison, and for the first time since his abduction is allowed to make phone calls and be in contact with others. He has been behind bars for over seven years.
Saeed's campaign has been calling on the Supreme Leader to ensure a fair, independent trial for Saeed Malekpour, and to release him until that trial takes place. As a Canadian permanent resident, the Canadian government has also been lobbying for his freedom.
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