We have some pretty absurd stories in America about bloggers and internet personalities inciting public outcry, hate, or backlash. We even see a few cases where there are legal ramifications for certain online comments or activity. But whenever you think the response is too harsh, think about 30 year old Soheil Arabi of Iran who was arrested in 2013 and recently sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Iran. His crime? A few Facebook posts that supposedly insult the Prophet Mohammed.
It’s important to keep in mind that the government of Iran is decidedly Muslim and their code of law is derived directly from the Quran. With our own freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, something like this comes as quite a shock to Americans and people of the Western world. But Mr. Arabi will suffer the consequences of offending the ruling powers of Iran.
The reports that have come out of the trial suggest that Mr. Arabi was not in his right mind when he made the eight fake Facebook profile pages and posted what the Muslim world would consider blasphemous and insulting remarks about their one true Prophet. This concept of him not thinking clearly when he was doing this is important to his appeal, since the Islamic Penal Code states that if such offenses were committed by mistake, the death sentence can be converted to 74 lashes. (That’s lashes with a whip.)
We bring this up to illustrate a point. We think the internet and all the freedom it entails is nothing short of, well, incredible. But the freedoms the Internet promises can be taken away in states and countries where the local laws and customs are still a bit… old-fashioned. As the world continues to grow more and more connected, we have access to information that can change our minds and spread like wildfire around the globe. It’s like a magnifying glass into things happening all around the world and the only possible result is that this information going global will raise awareness and initiate a dialogues that can change the course of history—for both the common blogger and an entire nation of people.
We’re in no place to judge the customs and laws of a foreign people, but as representatives of the web and all that it promises, we can push for more reasonable reactions to the things people say when handed a digital passport and soap box to the entire world. We can also urge people in every country to be aware that you’re talking to the whole world when you broadcast to the web. Be respectful of who you might offend. Especially if the local authorities are likely to round you up and sentence you to death.