Iran drops death sentence in Prophet Muhammad insult case


Iran has dropped a death sentence for a man convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a series of Facebook posts, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Soheil Arabi was sentenced to hanging in August 2014 after allegedly defaming the prophet and the 12 holy Imams of Shia Islam in comments on social media.

Tehran prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi said Arabi, who was also found guilty of "insulting state officials" and "propaganda against the regime", will now serve an unspecified jail term.

"The initial sentence was execution and its reduction to prison by the Supreme Court shows the independence of the judges," judiciary-linked Mizan Online quoted Dolatabadi as saying.

The harsh sentence for Arabi, who is in his early 30s, had sparked criticism from rights activists. Human Rights Watch called on Iran to "vacate the death sentence" for Arabi and has urged authorities to reform the criminal code to improve freedom of speech.

Dolatabadi also said that trade unionist Reza Shahabi Zakari – considered a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International – has been charged with selling "security-related information" to "hostile groups".

Earlier in the month, labour news agency ILNA quoted Shahabi's wife, Robabeh Rezayi, as saying her husband had been taken back to prison after being released on medical leave. Former transport worker Shahabi, who was jailed in 2010 on charges supporters say are political, recently went on a 50-day hunger strike in protest at his detention, ILNA reported.

Iran does not provide official figures on executions, but Amnesty says it was the world's second-most prolific executioner after China in 2016. Most of its hangings relate to drug trafficking.    (AFP)

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