In 2015, Sina Dehghan was a 19-year-old serving his mandatory military service when he was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and tried for the crime of insulting Islam.
Dehghan allegedly posted negative statements about Islam and the Quran on the messaging platform LINE, which is popular in Asia and is similar to Facebook Messenger.
In January 2017, Iran's Supreme Court confirmed Dehghan's death sentence. With little hope of a retraction of the sentence, Iranians on social media have called for the government to commute or lessen Dehghan's punishment.
An anonymous source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that Dehghan was pressured to sign a letter of confession and repentance by the Revolutionary Guard, who told him he would be set free if he signed it. Instead, they used the confession as decisive evidence in the trial to push for a death sentence.
"During his interrogation, Sina was told that if he signed a confession and repented, he would be pardoned and let go," said the source. "Unfortunately, he made a childish decision and accepted the charges. Then they sentenced him to death. Later he admitted that he signed the confession hoping to get freed. Apparently the authorities also got him to confess in front of a camera as well."
Article 262 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code makes the crime of insulting the prophet a capital offense. However, Article 263 states that the accused's sentence can be reduced to 74 lashes if they tell the court that the insults were accidental or resulted from anger.
Dehghan's attorney was unable to take advantage of this statute to prevent a death sentence. CHRI reports that Dehghan's attorney, who was court-appointed as his family cannot afford a private representative, failed to mount a proper defense.
"Security and judicial authorities promised Sina's family that if they didn't make any noise about his case, he would have a better chance of being freed, and that talking about it to the media would work against him," said the anonymous source. "Unfortunately, the family believed those words and stopped sharing information about his case and discouraged others from sharing it as well."
Two others were arrested along with Dehghan: Sahar Eliasi and Mohammad Nouri, who the Revolutionary Guard said collaborated with Dehghan. Eliasi received three years in prison following an appeal while Nouri is awaiting a confirmation of his own death sentence.
Dehghan's father and grandfather also served in Iran's military – in particular, his grandfather died in action during the Iran-Iraq War.
"Sina is not feeling well," said the anonymous source. "He's depressed and cries constantly. He's being held in a ward with drug convicts and murderers who broke his jaw a while ago."
"He was a 19-year-old boy [when he was arrested] and had never done anything wrong in his life."