The Persecution of The Blogfather
SEP 24, 2010 | BY STAFF
by Jamaias DaCosta
Photo courtesy of Michael Stuparyk/Toronto Star
The story reads like something out of an action thriller, though for friends and family of Hossein Derakhshan it has been more of a nightmare. The U of T alumni turned Blog crusader and political pundit has suddenly been thrust into the international spotlight, two years after his arrest in his birth country of Iran.
Why the sudden media frenzy?
Derakhshan now faces possible execution for charges of crimes against the Islamic regime, including collaborating with enemy states and insulting religious sanctity. Despite being a Canadian citizen, the Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship or “nationality,” therefore they are not allowing amnesty access from the Canadian government.
Known to many as “The Blogfather,” Derakhshan first gained attention for developing a step-by-step guide in the Persian language for Persian users of Unicode and Blogger.com in 2001. He has since become an outspoken critic of political regimes across the board, including what he called the “propaganda machine of Iran,” as well as the U.S and British governments for their bullying of smaller, less politically allied states, like Iran.
In 2006, using his Canadian citizenship, Derakhshan made a trip to Israel in an attempt to build relations between Israelis and Iranians. His visit was notable and received extensive coverage, in particular from Israeli media, since it was the first public visit by an Iranian to the state of Israel.
He was quoted as saying, “This might mean I won’t be able to go back to Iran for a long time since Iran doesn’t recognize Israel…and considers traveling there illegal...As a citizen journalist I’m going to show my 20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel looks like and how people live there…As a peace activist, I am going to show the Israelis that the vast majority of Iranians do not identify with Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, despite what it looks like from the outside.”
After his visit to Israel, Derakhshan landed in London, England where he acquired an MA in Media Studies. According to a report from IndexonCensorship.org, he wanted to return to Iran to be with his family for Nooroz (Iranian New Year), and was also hoping to evolve beyond the Blogosphere.
On Index on Censorship, his friend Sandrine Murcia paraphrases him, “I learned so much in the past year; it opened up for me so many new ways of thinking. I can’t wait to use all of this in my writing.”
Murcia says Derakhshan knew he was risking arrest; however, he believed that due to the 2010 Iranian presidential election, officials would treat him fairly, and that he would have the opportunity to publicly explain himself. So in the fall of 2008, Derakhshan returned to Iran to be with his family.
By November 2008, he was arrested at the home of his parents in Tehran and has been in jail for the last two years. His trial began three months ago, and although there are amnesty issues at play, U of T political science professor and former colleague Ronald Deibert says, “the outpouring of support hasn’t been as profound as it should be, considering he is facing possible execution.”
Reports have speculated on an apparent about-face that occurred leading up to his arrest. Prior to this, Derakhshan was notorious for his critiquing of the Iranian government, writing articles like “Impeach Ahmadinejad” f0r The Guardian.
However, according to Deibert, the sudden U-turn had Derakhshan showing support for Ahmadinejad’s policies towards both the U.S. and Israel, as well as questioning the motives of human rights colleagues who were funded by any U.S.-based organization, a sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater via his now defunct blog “Hoder.”
This changing of lanes has alienated Derakhshan from otherwise would-be allies. “All of this is besides the point” says an impassioned Deibert, “the point is, he’s about to face execution. If they care at all about human rights, surely he doesn’t deserve that.”
By all other reports, the Derakhshan family has kept mum for fear of the impact on his trial. However, we found a translated interview dated September 21st, 2010 with his mother on CyrusFarivar.com.
His mother states Derakhshan had been communicating with the High Council of Iranian Affairs prior to his return: “Before his return to Iran, the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad promised Hossein that his trip would be without problem. He had cleared his trip with this Council which is governmental and which is in contact with the Intelligence service. That’s why…he did not expect to be arrested like this.”
His mother also says that Derakhshan is “extremely overwhelmed and listless. He seems really depressed…being in jail, and being alone for two years.” Although he has requested to be transferred to a general ward, Derakhshan remains in solitary confinement.
There are petitions posted online in support of Derakhshan, as well as a Facebook group. Lisa Monette, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada told CyrusFarivar.com, “We will continue to press the Iranian authorities for access…Canada continues to urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice.”
Derakhshan’s Pen Canada advocate Douglas Donegani insists that this is not enough. “No government should wait, there should be lobbying now, before it’s too late.” Donegani has worked on similar cases in the past, and insists that the persecution comof Derakhshan by the Iranian government is par for the course. “The [Iranian] judiciary and prosecutors work in tandem…making for a completely arbitrary legal system. Everything is done under a veil of secrecy.”
Although Donegani says he feels hope for this case, he also stresses that if and when Derakhshan is released from prison, he will have to leave Iran forever. “People will be released from the Evin prison, and then approached and pressured by the government to participate in nefarious activity. Hossein must leave Iran.” Donegani also states that due to the arbitrary legal system, unless there is a bail hearing and Hossein is released on bail, the death penalty ruling can change one way or the other at any given time.
In the meantime, supporters and family wait with bated breath for word from the prosecution in Tehran of the precarious fate of Hossein Derakhshan, the Persian Blogfather.