Under the new penal code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, blasphemy was given a dedicated new chapter, and remains punishable by death.
The penal code of Iran was formally changed in 2012. In addition to numerous other human rights issues that remain under the new penal code, the crimes of “apostasy” and “blasphemy” are still in force and are punishable by death.
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center explains:
“Blasphemy by insulting a prophet (sabb-al-nabi) is another serious offence in the Islamic Shari’a, incurring the death penalty for the perpetrator. Although it was mentioned in the old Penal Code (art. 513), the new Penal Code includes a separate chapter [Second Book, Part 2, Chapter 5 of the new Penal Code] and express provisions keeping this a capital offence. According to article 260 of the new Penal Code, any person insults the Prophet of Islam or other Great Prophets shall be considered as sābb-al-nabi and punished by death. The note of the same article has provided the same punishment for those insulting the twelve Shi’ite Imams and the daughter of the Prophet. The positive point about this new article is omission of the ambiguous notion of “insulting the sacred values of Islam” prescribed in article 513 of the old Penal Code, which was open to broad interpretation. It must be noted, however, that article 513 has not been changed or removed as it is part of the Fifth Book of the old Penal Code which was not part of the recent changes.”
Article 513 of the old Penal Code which remains in force, states (in translation by Iran Human Rights Documentation Center): “Any person insults the sacred values of Islam or any of Great Prophets or the [twelve Shi’ite] imams or the Holy Fatemeh [daughter of Prophet Mohammad], if considered as sāb-al-nabi shall be punishable by the death penalty; otherwise shall be sentenced to one to five years imprisonment.”
However, expressing views that are “blasphemous”, or critical of religious and other authorities, are not only prosecuted under saab-al-nabi provisions. The Berkley Center explains how broadly-worded provisions about “spreading corruption on earth” are utilised to suppress free expression on a range of topics:
“As a Shi’a Islamic theocracy, Iran equally holds expressions of unsanctioned religious views and expressions of political dissent to be acts of blasphemy. Those arrested for blasphemy are generally charged with mofsed-e-filarz (“spreading corruption on earth”), a broadly defined crime capable of encompassing anything deemed undesirable by the state. There is no set penalty for such a wide-ranging crime, and punishments can run the gamut from a few months in jail to execution, with any prison sentence often supplemented by torture. In addition to suppressing political dissent and calls for reform within the established tradition of Shi’a Islam, blasphemy charges are also used to persecute religious minorities, including Bahá’ís, Sunnis, Sufis, and Christians. Recent blasphemy sentences include five years imprisonment for a singer who ridiculed the Qur’an in a song, three years for a Shi’a history professor and Iran-Iraq War veteran who called for political reforms, and a death sentence—later commuted to 11 years imprisonment—for a senior Shi’a cleric who advocates greater separation of religion and the state.”
In one high profile case, the renowned singer and composer Mohsen Namjoo, was sentenced in absentia on June 9, 2009, to five yeas jail. The conviction for “insulting sanctities, ridiculing the Koran and dishonoring the holy book of the Muslims” related to a song Namjoo claimed was released without authorisation and for which he formally apologised. Namjoo now lives in Europe.