In the wake of the murderous attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, it seemed as though the voices of Iran’s leaders were united with those of its imprisoned dissidents in condemning the act. A deeper investigation revealed that Iran’s vocal denunciation had not only a caveat – placing the blame for the attacks on the West – but was quite ingenuous, with the Islamic Republic even banning a vigil local journalists had planned in honor of the victims.
Tehran went a step further in demonstrating its contempt for free speech and its champions – mere hours after the Charlie Hebdo attack, it sentenced 30-year-old Soheil Arabi to death by execution for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad on Facebook, deaf to Arabi’s insistence that he had only shared posts others had written. In light of Arabi’s admission, he should have been sentenced to 74 lashes rather than death, as per the Iranian penal code (according to Iran Wire, the punishment negates the Qur’an as well). But instead of commuting Arabi’s sentence, Iran, in the same spirit of intolerance that spawned ISIS and the Paris attacks, added another charge onto the case – “corruption on earth,” punishable by death.
Arabi’s plight received ample attention in the Western media, with a heartrending photo of him nuzzling his smiling 5-year-old daughter appearing everywhere from The Huffington Post to Human Rights Watch to Mashable. A few outlets called Iran out on its hypocrisy in condemning the attacks on the one hand, and brutally suppressing the press and punishing its citizens for exercising the right to free speech on the other: one somber account of the silencing of journalists, by Sofia at The Daily Kos, lamented that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s “message of support” to France was “empty;” a more sardonic take appeared on Listicle, reminding us that as Tehran extends its condolences to Paris (with a caveat), the likes of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian continue to languish in its notorious prisons, paying heavy prices for “unknown crimes.” Oh, and by the way, in this context, does the press remember Salman Rushdie?