Iranian programmer Saeed Malekpour will be celebrating his 40th birthday Friday from behind bars, where he's completing his seventh year in prison for creating an open source software program that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet.
His story is an example of the fear Iranian authorities use to control the nation's Internet space. Saeed was arrested in 2008 on charges of 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. The context of these confessions included electrocution and threats of rape.
He was originally sentenced to death, until what some activists believed was the influence of global attention and internal pressure convinced Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to call off his death sentence.
Saeed's arrest, which was widely seen as a way to spread fear, coincided with the start of strict Internet control policies after a cyber crimes law was ratified in Iran in 2008.
This week, many Iranians from both inside the country and the diaspora are convening in Berlin for iBridges to celebrate the burgeoning technology scene for start-ups and entrepreneurs. While IT development and the expansion of opportunities for Iran's population is something to be applauded, the victims of Iran's Internet policy should not be forgotten.
Exactly a year ago, many in the Internet freedom community took a strong stance to advocate for the release of jailed technology bloggers known as Narenji. There was a small victory when they were released this past October.
But Saeed is amongst a handful of developers still serving indefinite prison sentences. Amongst whom are Vahid Asghari, an Iranian blogger and information and technology student, as well as Hassan Siskati, another programmer and cyber activist.
In an email from Saeed's sister, Maryam Malekpour, who is now based in Canada, told Global Voices that she and a group of activists are launching a campaign for him using the hashtags #FreeSaeedMalekpour #HBDSaeed and #LifesNotFair.
Global Voices got in touch with a few IT technologists and Internet activists to comment on Saeed's 40th birthday in jail.
Mehdi Yahyanejad, founder of the Persian language social and political website Balatarin, had this to say about Saeed's continued imprisonment:
It is not justice to keep a talented software engineer in jail just because the software he developed was used by others for reasons deemed illegal by the Iranian government. With that logic, every time a hacker uses Gmail to defraud someone, a Google engineer should also be arrested.
I hope Saeed's birthday's can be celebrated as a free man.
Amir Rashidi, an Iranian internet researcher and activist, told Global Voices the following in an email:
یک تکه کد متن باز در هر سیستمی میتواند استفاده شود. درست مثل خیلی از بخشهای نرمافزارهای ملی ایران مثل اپلیکیشن ساینا و موتورهای جستجوی ملی. یک برنامه نویس متن باز مخصوصا اگر کدی عمومی را تولید کند، بعد از تولید کد مسوولیتی در مورد استفاده افراد از کد وی را ندارد. شما میتوانید با یک تکد کد نوشته شده توسط سعید عکسهای پورنوگرافی آپلود کنید و یا عکسهای مذهبی. اما عدم شناخت از کار افرادی مانند سعید تنها مشکل کشور ما نیست. در کشور ما قوانین روشن و مشخصی در مورد جرايم سایبری نیز وجود ندارد. سعید قربانی عدم شناخت حاکمیت از کارش و عدم وجود قوانین روشن و شفاف سایبری شده است.تبریک تولد سعید به زبان کامپیوتر(Binary):01001000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01111001 00100000 01100010 01101001 01110010 01110100 01101000 01100100 01100001 01111001
A piece of open source code can be used in any system. Just like many of the nation's software programs, such as as the Saina application and national search engines. A open source programmer who releases his code publicly is no longer responsible for the use of his code after it is published. With Saeed's open source code, you could have built a program to either upload pornographic photos or religious ones. Unfortunately, in our country the lack of understanding about the work done by individuals such as Saeed is not the only problem. In our country there is no clear law about cyber crimes. Saeed was a victim of a lack of understanding from the regime about his work and the absence of clear and transparent rules of cyberspace.
A happy birthday to Saeed in computer language (Binary):
01001000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01111001 00100000 01100010 01101001 01110010 01110100 01101000 01100100 01100001 01111001
Nima Fatemi, an Iranian Tor and free software developer, told Global Voices the following:
A very happy birthday to Saeed whose story is a good lesson on why writing free software and expanding its culture is so important. Writing code is not a crime and no one in this world should be prosecuted for it. Everyone, including governments benefit from free software and such actions hurt us all as a community. The first and most important value of this [free software] community is ‘freedom’, and we should work together, strongly, to protect it.
Mohamed Hassan, a Bahraini activist, IT blogger, and Global Voices author previously imprisoned in Bahrain for his writing, told us:
Having been in a similar position I feel connected to Saeed, prison is about being robbed of your dreams, it's about fear, fear for the ones we leave behind, fear of the world that will re-enter. A guy in prison told me that you should stop adding the years you spend in prison to your age, because years are measured by the progress we make and in prison you're not progressing.Saeed's birthday should be a reminder to the rest of us that while we progress in time we must remember those who live outside the boundaries of time, those who don't age as we do.I pray for Saeed's release and the safety of his family.
Nariman Gharib, an Iranian Internet researcher and activist, told Global Voices through Twitter direct message:
A lot of us know Saeed; those of us whose work involves the construction and understanding of web design. I am saddened by the fact that intelligent individuals find their place in the prisons of Iran. Saeed dear, I wish you a very happy birthday.