Iran: Death sentence for "insulting the prophet"

Oct 02, 2017
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Amnesty International 

An Iranian man has been sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet of Islam”. Soheil Arabi has now had his sentence upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court. He was sentenced for posts deemed offensive to the Prophet he had made on Facebook.


Photogrpaher Soheil Arabi, 30, was sentenced to death on 30 August 2014 for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” (Sabbo al-Nabbi) by a five-judge panel of Branch 76 of the Criminal Court of Tehran: three of the judges ruled in favour of the death penalty. The charge stems from postings Soheil Arabi made on eight Facebook accounts, which the authorities said belong to Soheil Arabi. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence on 24 November. In a separate case stemming from the same Facebook posts, Soheil Arabi was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the leader”, by a Tehran Revolutionary Court on 4 September.

Soheil Arabi was arrested in November 2013 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in his home in Tehran, and spent two months in solitary confinement in section 2A of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the IRGC. During interrogation, he was pressured into making a “confession”. He was later transferred to Section 350 of the Prison, which is under the control of the Judiciary.


Soheil Arabai’s case is the second case known to Amnesty International where someone was sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet”. The other case is of Rouhollah Tavana; the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” in February 2014. He had been sentenced to death on 3 August 2013 by Branch Five of the Criminal Court in Khorasan in relation to a video clip in which he allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. The Court also sentenced him to imprisonment and flogging on charges of “alcohol consumption”, “making alcoholic beverages” and “illicit sexual relations”. A Revolutionary Court in Khorasan sentenced him to a further three years' imprisonment after convicting him of “insulting the founder of the Revolution” and “insulting the Supreme Leader”. See “Facing Death for ‘Insulting the Prophet’” (

Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that the death penalty may be “imposed only for the most serious crimes”. In November 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the ICCPR, expressed concern about the number of death sentences imposed and carried out in Iran. The Committee said the Iranian authorities “should consider abolishing the death penalty or at least revise the Penal Code to restrict the imposition of the death penalty to only the ‘most serious crimes’”.

As a state party to the ICCPR, Iran is obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the rights contained in the treaty. However, the revised Islamic Penal Code, signed into law in May 2013, has maintained articles that unduly impose restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Article 262 of the Revised Penal Code states that “anyone who curses the Prophet of Islam or other Prophets or accuses them of adultery is Sabbo al-Nabi and will be sentenced to death”. According to Article 263 of the Penal Code, “an accused who claims that their statements were made under duress, as a result of negligence, or in a state of intoxication” among other things, would not be sentenced to death. A punishment of flogging is prescribed in
such cases.

The UN Human Rights Committee in its General Comments No. 34 criticizes laws prohibiting blasphemy or lack of respect for religious systems, stating that “it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favour of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally because it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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