Death Penalty for Internet ‘Crimes’

Iran’s parliament is set to debate a draft bill which could see the death penalty used for those deemed to promote corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet, reports said on Wednesday.

MPs on Wednesday voted to discuss as a priority the draft bill which seeks to “toughen punishment for harming mental security in society,” the ISNA news agency said.

The text lists a wide range of crimes such rape and armed robbery for which the death penalty is already applicable. The crime of apostasy (the act of leaving a religion, in this case Islam) is also already punishable by death.

However, the draft bill also includes “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”, which is a new addition to crimes punishable by death.

Those convicted of these crimes “should be punished as “mohareb’ (enemy of God) and “corrupt on the earth’,” the text says.

Under Iranian law the standard punishments for these two crimes are “hanging, amputation of the right hand and then the left foot as well as exile.”

The bill — which is yet to be debated by lawmakers — also stipulates that the punishment handed out in these cases “cannot be commuted, suspended or changed”.

Internet is widely used in Iran despite restrictions on access and the blocking of thousands of websites with a sexual content or deemed as insulting religious sanctities and promoting political dissent.

Blogging is also very popular among cyber-savvy young Iranians, some openly discussing their private lives or criticising the system.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of making excessive use of the death penalty but Teheran insists it is an effective deterrent that is carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process.

The number of executions soared last year to 317 amid a campaign which the authorities said was aimed at improving security in society, and was sharply up on 2006 figures when Amnesty International recorded 177 executions.

All legislation in Iran has to be rubber-stamped by a conservative clerical watchdog before it is written into law. The Guardians Council vets bills to see if they are in line with the constitution and Islamic law.

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Religious Authority Warns Women against Perfume, Flirtation (Turkey)

Secular Turks say the government’s religious authority has gone too far by advising women not to flirt with strangers or wear perfume outside their homes. The article is expected to further inflame a debate about the role of religion in the secular nation.

Is wearing perfume a sin? Or casting a flirtatious gaze at a man? According to an article recently published on the Web site of Turkey’s directorate for religious affairs, Diyanet, it is.

The article, which is drawing criticism in Turkey and raising attention abroad, essentially chalks women up as walking aphrodisiacs and puts the onus on them to cover up and prevent themselves from sexually stimulating men in any way outside their homes.

“Women have to be more careful, since they have stimulants,” the article states, according to a report in the Guardian. “The women communicating with strange men should speak in a manner that will not arouse suspicion in one’s heart and in such seriousness and dignity that they will not let the opposite party misunderstand them, that they should not show their adornments and figure and that they should cover in a fine manner.” It even goes so far as to equate flirtation with adultery, according to critics.

The article also discourages women from wearing perfume. “His highness the Prophet Muhammad did not think kindly of women who put on perfumes outside their homes and go strolling and saw this as immoral behavior,” it continues.

The article also reportedly said women should not spend time together with men in private unless married and questioned the virtues of mixed-sex workplaces.

Generally, Diyanet has promoted a moderate form of Islam and the article threatens to further inflame a roaring debate about the role of religion in what is constitutionally a secular state. The Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently facing a legal challenge in the country’s highest court, accused of undermining the secular principles upon which Turkey was founded, and faces the possibility of a ban in the future.

“It’s like a comedy,” writes Yusuf Kanli, a columnist with the pro-secular Turkish Daily News, “but the article appeared on the Web site of a state institution that is supposed to regulate the practice of Islam in the country according to the teachings (as perceived by the Turkish government) of Islam rather than those of some Islamist orders or brotherhood organizations. … Is this mentality different at all with that of the Taliban that placed Afghan women behind chadors?”

Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, established Diyanet in 1924 to ensure that Islam did not interfere with the country’s strictly secular government. Although Diyanet has no legal authority, it is highly influential as the custodian of the Muslim faith in the country. It is in charge of the country’s 70,000 clerics and is also responsible for appointing Turkey’s imams.

Man Jailed Over Feminism Petition (Iran)

TEHRAN (AFP) – A male defender of the feminist cause in Iran has been sentenced to a year in prison, the moderate Kargozaran newspaper reported on Monday.

Amir Yaqoubali is a supporter of the “One Million Signatures” petition campaign launched in June 2006. According to a feminist website, he was arrested as he collected signatures.

The campaign seeks to change the Islamic republic’s laws on marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody by collecting signatures both online and in person.

In recent months four feminists — Rezvan Moghadam, Nahid Jafari, Nasrin Afzali and Marzieh Mortazi Langueroudi — were handed down suspended sentences of six months in prison and 10 lashes by Tehran Revolutionary Court for disorderly conduct in public.

In March last year, they took part in a rally outside the same court to protest against the arrest of five feminists in June 2006.

Several other activists, arrested for their pro-feminism stance, are still in jail.