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Iran may criminalise social media comments

February 1, 2023 at 3:29 pm

People take part in a rally against the Iranian regime in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France [Sathiri Kelpa – Anadolu Agency]

The Iranian parliament is planning to introduce new articles to the Islamic Penal Code which would criminalise “expressing opinions on social networks”. If approved, this will further limit freedom of speech in the Islamic Republic.

According to Iran’s reformist daily newspaper Etemad in an article headlined “Be careful with your comments; If it is against the official reading, you will be punished!”, lawmakers at the Judiciary Committee have made plans to add an article to Chapter five of the Penal Code. At the moment, Article 512 states: “Anyone who entices or incites people to fight and kill each other with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, regardless of whether or not it causes murder and looting, will be sentenced to one to five years in prison.”

It is believed that the amendments could target well-known and influential people in Iran who are deemed by the authorities to instigate civil strife or violence, especially if their comments go against the official line on a matter.

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The proposed addition to the law says, “Anyone with a good job or with a good social standing or anyone who is a cultural, scientific, or military figure, even those with a high standing in their family” might be subjected to the new punishments “if they make a comment prior or contrary to official views about the state of the affairs in the country whether by word of mouth or on social media.”

The new legislation will reportedly extend the duration of imprisonment up to 15 years in addition to a fine of up to 550 million rials ($13,000), regardless of whether the comments “will or will not lead to murder and destruction of property”.

Last month, two new additions were made to the Islamic Penal Code, following months of protests after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. The changes include more severe punishments for those who “insult ethnic or religious minorities with the aim of instigating violence and tension” and against “those who commit criminal offences against law enforcers and government buildings”.

The head of the Judiciary Committee, Moussa Ghazanfarabadi, told Etimad that the new legislation is under review and not yet finalised. However, he emphasised that the new article is intended to address “fake news, lies and rumours”.

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