Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada, traveled to Iran over three years ago to say goodbye to his dying father who was suffering from a brain tumor.
What he didn’t know was that his family would soon be faced with yet another adversity: three days after setting foot in the country Malekpour was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and later sentenced to death.
He is now in imminent danger of being executed.
Last week, when Malekpour’s lawyers went to the Revolutionary Court to follow up on his case, they were told that his file containing the death sentence ruling was no longer there, said his sister Maryam Malekpour.
The implication, the lawyers were told, is that the court order has been sent to the execution of sentences office.
“It means that any moment now [the death sentence] can be carried out,” Maryam said in a phone interview from Tehran, speaking in Persian.
Malekpour, an Iranian citizen and a materials engineering graduate of Sharif University of Technology, one of Iran’s top universities, worked as a freelance software developer in Canada while his wife pursued her graduate studies.
One of the software programs Malekpour developed under contract while in Canada was a Web-based tool to upload images to websites, that could be used for uploading things such as restaurant menus or making photo galleries.
According to his family, without Malekpour’s knowledge the program was used to upload photos to pornographic sites, which is what led to his arrest when he visited Iran in October 2008.
He was charged with managing pornographic sites and has been detained in the notorious Evin Prison since.
Maryam said her brother has spent over 18 months in solitary confinement, and has only had access to his lawyers two or three times during his three years in detainment.
Malekpour received the death sentence based on testimony that he said in a letter from prison was obtained under tremendous physical and mental torture, in a trial without proper access to defense and without the participation of experts.
Arman Rezakhani, who was in Evin Prison with Malekpour, said he remembers seeing signs of torture on Malekpour when he saw him in the general ward. Rezakhani was arrested following the widespread protests disputing Iran’s 2009 presidential elections results. He now lives in the United States.
“He always told me that he was under pressure. I even saw once that his jaw was fractured,” said Rezakhani.
“He was forced to say things under pressure that he repeatedly denied later, and said that his case is lacking expert testimony and that it is clearly obvious that his case hasn’t been handled properly.”
Maryam, who said her brother is still in Evin Prison and is unaware that he could be executed any day, said the family no longer has any legal options to help free him.
“I have sent letters to all judiciary offices; I haven’t received any response.”
She is now asking the international community for assistance. Last week she sent a letter to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking for help to free her brother.
“Saeed can be illegally executed at any moment unless the international community defends his life. Saeed’s lawyers have told our family that the only hope left is the international community. All legal channels within Iran have been exhausted,” the letter reads.
Last week, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement expressing concern over reports that Malekpour may soon be executed.
“We appeal to the government of Iran to commute this sentence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Canada is deeply concerned when individuals fail to receive a fair trial, in accordance with international human rights,” Baird said.
Canada’s House of Commons also unanimously endorsed a motion expressing concern for Malekpour’s safety and calling for the release of Malekpour and others “who have failed to receive fair and transparent legal treatment.”
Earlier this month, 25 Canadian senators also called on Iran to immediately release Malekpour and other political prisoners.
‘Victim of a political game’
Rezakhani said Malekpour is a “victim of a political game” by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who need to show results that their cyberpolicing activities are working to justify more funding.
He said Iran could also be using him to do a prisoner swap to get Mahmoud Reza Khavari back to Iran. Khavari was the managing director of Iran’s Bank Melli who resigned amid a large embezzlement case involving the bank and came to Canada.
Another possibility, Rezakhani added, is that Iran wants to use Malekpour to gain an “advantage” over Canada in response to Canada’s sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, as well as Canada’s regular condemnation of Iran’s human rights record.
Canada had a falling out with Iran after Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi died in the custody of Iranian officials in 2003 following her arrest in Iran. Tensions also rose between the two countries when Iranian-Canadian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested in Iran in 2006. He was released later the same year.
A spokesperson with the prime minister’s office didn’t provide any more comments beyond Baird’s statement.