Iranian national team goalkeeper Sosha Makani was arrested on January 3rd for violating his country’s laws governing the internet.
At issue are photos posted to Makani’s Instagram account and twoblogs depicting him mingling with several women at a party. Iranian authorities are claiming that the photos are indecent and violate Article 17 of the country’s Computer Crimes Act.
A translation of Article 17 from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reads: “Any person who publishes private or family photos or videos of others through the Internet without their permission, in such a way that causes them harm or disrepute, will be punishable from 91 days to two years in prison or fined from five million rials (about $168) to 40 million rials (about $1340) or both.”
Makani, who plays for Persepolis in the Persian Gulf Pro League (the country’s top flight league competition), was part of the Iranian squad that went qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, although he did not start in any of their fixtures.
The photos in question started filtering online earlier in the month. They have since been scrubbed from his Instagram account but still appear on those two blogs.
As per the ICHRI, Makani’s legal defense is predicated on him not personally posting those photos online, and further arguing that his phone and social media accounts were hacked by third parties. According to Iranian attorney Hossein Raeesi, that distinction is important.
“The law regarding Internet crimes says if someone directly posts indecent photos of himself or others online, then a crime has been committed. But given his lawyer’s statements [regarding the hacking of Makani’s account] and the fact that he is a famous person, I doubt he posted the photos himself.”
At least one of the women depicted in the photos declined to press charges, but that the Iranian Judiciary continued to hold him “... because the photos have spread corruption and indecency in society and we have to find out the truth.” BBC Persian reports that he was finally released on bail yesterday and has returned to his club to resume training.
It’s difficult to discuss Iran without discarding all sense of nuance. The country is usually portrayed in the West as a repressive police state and a cultural dead zone. Yet one does not even need to look past our own archives to see that it’s not quite that simple. History and geopolitics aside, Makani’s plight is, at its core, a human rights issue. It may be the case that Makani was hacked and some personal photos were disseminated online by ill-intentioned parties, but even if he did post them himself, posting party selfies on Instagram shouldn’t be a crime, and it definitely shouldn’t warrant two years in prison. Here’s hoping that cooler heads and common sense prevail.