Legal analysis

Iran: Computer Crimes Law

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ARTICLE 19

11 Jan 2012

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Executive summary

The 2010 Computer Crimes Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran flagrantly violates international human rights law and is an affront to freedom of expression principles. Extensive legal reform, including the repeal of the Computer Crimes Law, is urgently required to protect the right to freedom of expression in Iran.

ARTICLE 19 notes with concern that the Computer Crimes Law of 2010 is only the latest addition to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s vast censorship apparatus. It demonstrates the resolve of the Iranian Government to pursue human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists through electronic media: the last available sanctuary for freedom of expression and political dissent in the country.

The Computer Crimes Law is saturated with provisions that criminalise legitimate expression. Crimes against “public morality and chastity” and the “dissemination of lies” are engineered to ensnare all forms of legitimate expression. These include broad criminal defamation and obscenity provisions that are antithetical to the right to freedom of expression. Essential elements of offenses are described with ambiguity and in vague and overbroad terms. No defences are available to individuals acting in the public interest. Unfettered discretion is conferred on the Government to pursue its own prerogatives above the interests of the public and the imperatives of international human rights law.

The Computer Crimes Law mandates severe sentences that penalise legitimate expression and offend the proportionality principal that is fundamental to human rights protection. ARTICLE 19 is particularly appalled at the availability of the death penalty for crimes committed against public morality and chastity. Other sanctions on legitimate expression include lengthy custodial sentences, draconian fines, and judicial orders to close organisations and ban individuals from using electronic communications. These penalties also apply to Internet Service Providers that fail to enforce content-based restrictions, incentivising the private sector to promulgate Iran’s censorship culture. 

ARTICLE 19 believes that restoring the right to freedom of expression in Iran requires wholesale reform to redress the conceptual failure signified by the Computer Crimes Law. Protection and promotion of freedom of expression must be reasserted as norms and limitations on free expression as the exception.

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Note: Article 19 analysis is on the law which was evidently adopted on 31 January 2010. However, evidence also exists that the same law was adopted on 1 July 2009.