The Iranian parliament plans to add an article to the Islamic Penal Code that would criminalize "expressing opinions on social networks," state media reported, in an attempt to further limit freedom of speech.
The main targets of the proposed Article 512 are influential people in Iran.
The draft legislation says that people who hold "a social, political, scientific and cultural position" and use social media to comment on issues that "require" an official response will be sentenced to prison if their posts get "widespread feedback" and "disrupt public order."
The head of parliament’s Judicial Commission has said that Article 512 is aimed at dealing with "lies" and that its provisions are still under review.
A growing number of celebrities have used their social media accounts to voice support for protests that have swept Iran for more than four months and criticize the Islamic Republic’s brutal response to the wave of public anger.
Some of these celebrities have been thrown behind bars, interrogated and had their passports confiscated, with Islamic Republic officials accusing them of "fanning the flames of the riots."
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have heavily disrupted Internet access in large parts of the country and blocked or periodically disrupted access to social media and messaging platforms to quash the protest movement.
Mosa Barzin Khalifelou, IranWire's legal advisor, says that, according to Iran's laws, “commenting on the Internet is not considered a crime as long as it does not insult a person or promote violence.”
“But like many other things, there is a big difference between what is written in the law and what happens in practice," Khalifelou adds.
Charges such as “insulting sacred things,” which can include expressing opinions about security officers or the prophet of Islam, is punishable by Iran's legal system.
Iranian citizens have been arrested and are facing the death penalty after writing about their own interpretation of Islam on social media.
Many activists have been accused of "insulting the sacred things" on social media. Those who set fire to pictures of Islamic Republic figures such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or General Ghasem Soleimani have also been targeted.
If Article 512 is approved, will comments on social and political issues become as dangerous as expressing views on religious issues?
"In the law, sacred things mean religious sacred issues. People have been charged during recent protests for burning Khamenei's and Suleimani's pictures due to the unwillingness of the courts to correctly interpret the law," Khalifelou said.
"Judges who deal with these types of cases are often not qualified to judge, in the sense that their appointment followed a process that was based on their alignment with political and security trends rather than their legal knowledge and experience. Some of them don't even have a legal education," he added.
That'll show the the world they aren't tyrants! /sarc