Human rights advocates are calling for the Iranian government to stop the imminent hanging of a blogger accused of "insulting the prophet of Islam" in comments posted on eight different Facebook accounts.
After the Iranian Supreme Court upheld a criminal court's decision to execute 30-year-old Soheil Arabi last week, rights groups appealed to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, to release the father so that he can care for his five-year-old daughter.
"It is simply shocking that anyone should face the gallows simply because of internet postings that are deemed to be crude, offensive, or insulting," Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) deputy Middle East and North Africa director said in a statement Tuesday.
"Iran should urgently revise its penal code to eliminate provisions that criminalize peaceful free expression, especially when they punish its exercise with death," Goldstein added.
Arabi was arrested along with his wife, Nastaran Naimi, in November 2013. Naimi was released hours later, but Arabi was transferred to a Revolutionary Guard prison where he was thrown in solitary confinement for two months, initially not allowed access to a lawyer, and interrogated over long sessions, during which time he allegedly confessed to the crimes, according to Amnesty International.
A Tehran Criminal Court found Arabi guilty of "sabb al-nabi" (insulting the Prophet), on August 30. The crime carries a death sentence.
Arabi was also sentenced in a separate case based on the same social media posts. He was sentenced September 4 to three years in jail for "spreading propaganda against the system," and "insulting the leader."
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) claims that Arabi's lawyers fought the charges on the provisions of Article 264, which says that "if a suspect merely claims in court that he said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes."
But on November 24, a year after Arabi's arrest, the Supreme Court not only upheld the lower court's decision, but also added an additional charge of "corruption on Earth," which means the blogger now cannot receive a pardon.
The only remaining avenue to pursue to halt Arabi's execution lies with a judge in Branch 41 of the Supreme Court, according to ICHRI. The judge could revoke the corruption on Earth charge by saying it was "added by mistake," which would allow the case to be reviewed in a lateral court, the group said.
Beyond seeking a stay on Arabi's execution, Amnesty went further by calling for Iran to "establish an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty." The group also said in a statement last week that Arabi's case is the second known time a blogger has been sentenced to death for "insulting the prophet." Rouhollah Tavanato was convicted on similar charges in February 2014.
HWR has voiced concerns that Iran broadly uses the charge of "sowing corruption on Earth" against writers, bloggers, journalists and political opponents to silence any sort of dissidence and suppress freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields