On Wednesday, Iranian members of parliament voted to discuss a draft bill that seeks to “toughen punishment for disturbing mental security in society.” The text of the bill would add, “establishing websites and weblogs promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy,” to the list of crimes punishable by death.
In recent years, some Iranian bloggers have been sent to jail and many have had their sites filtered. If the Iranian parliament approves this draft bill, bloggers fear they could be legally executed as criminals. No one has defined what it means to “disturb mental security in society”.
Such discussion concerning blogs has not been unique to Iran. It shows that many authorities do not only wish to filter blogs, but also to eliminate bloggers!
A state policy to control blogs
About a year and a half ago, the Iranian government demanded that bloggers should register and provide their names and addresses on a site called Samandehi. Many people believed such a process would facilitate legal action against them.
Bloggers resisted and many published an “I do not register my blog/site” banner on their blogs. The Government then realised it cannot have real control of the situation, or force bloggers to register.
In the footsteps of Yemen?
Unfortunately, the Iranian case is not unique to the Middle East and to the world. In April, MidEastYouth talked about new repressive measures adopted by Yemen, quoting Walid Al-Saqaf, YemenPortal.net's administrator:
“This week, the government’s Minister of Information threatened to file lawsuits against news websites on the justification of ‘inciting hatred’ or ‘harming national interests’ and the other usual excuse they often use to prosecute journalists. The threat is even more severe for websites because the government would use the penal code instead of the press law. This means that website owners could receive even death penalties.”
“Don’t be upset, we'll execute you legally”
Nikahang, a leading Iranian online cartoonist and blogger, says [Fa]:
if this draft bill becomes law, everything will be based on interpretation and a simple blogger will be considered a center to destroy people’s religion! What can I say? Only people who disturb people’s mental security could support such a thing.
Mirza Kasra Bakhtyari writes [Fa] that Ali Larijani, the Iranian Parliament's President, supported discussing this draft bill and added that they have talked for hours with the Judiciary about it.
Ghomarashegahneh says [Fa]:
Mentioning ‘blogging’ among crimes such as kidnapping, raping, armed robbery makes accusing bloggers easier than before… Such a law will harm the mental security of society more than the poor bloggers, who do not know what awaits them.
The blogger adds that the real causes of mental security problems are the economic crisis and repressive government policies.
Bazri warns [Fa]: “We should do our best to stop members of parliament from approving this draft bill. Tomorrow it will be too late. It is easy to accuse a blogger of apostasy and corruption. Let's tell the Parliament that to think differently is not a crime that should be punishable by death.”
Balocuh has published a cartoon where a cleric tells a woman about to be executed: “Don’t be upset, we'll execute you legally.”
Nikahang, a leading cartoonist and blogger, has published another cartoon where Ali Larijani,parliament speaker, is “executing a blogger.”
I have been very impressed with the dramatic growth and vibrancy of the Farsi blogosphere, making it one of the top languages preferred by bloggers.
While I can understand the paranoia of the Iranian government based on the aggressive US efforts to destabilize it, I still think the Mullahs need to weigh the risks carefully.
The blogosphere provides a natural outlet for Iran’s restive youths who feel repressed by the Mullahs. Any draconian measures to control it would amount to shutting off the safety valve in society, raising the possibility of a violent outburst.