A Canadian-Iranian blogger, sometimes referred to as the Blogfather for kick-starting blogging in Iran, has been sentenced to 19.5 years in prison.
Conservative Iranian news site Mashreghnews.ir reported Tuesday that Hossein Derakhshan, who ran the popular hoder.com blog for years, was convicted of collaborating with hostile governments, spreading propaganda against the Islamic state, spreading propaganda in favour of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sacred beliefs and creating or managing corrupt and immoral websites.
His sentence, which can still be appealed, includes 19.5 years in prison and a ban from participating in any political or media activity for five years.
He must also return all funds he received through his blogging, which amounts to tens of thousands of dollars.
Derakhshan was arrested in 2008 and has been in prison ever since. His website is no longer active.
"We are deeply concerned about the news of this severe sentence. Our officials continue to seek confirmation of these reports from Tehran," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
"If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. Canada believes that no one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one's inherent right to freedom of expression."
According to the foreign affairs department, Derakhshan's situation is made more complicated because of his dual citizenship, which Iran doesn't recognize.
Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders called for Derakhshan's release.
“Such a long jail term has never before been imposed on a blogger in Iran and is indicative of a desire to make an example out of Derakhshan,” the organization said in a statement.
“He is the victim of political rivalry within the government and the case against him was fabricated. We urge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to intercede personally in order to obtain his release without delay.”
An online petition at Freetheblogfather.org is demanding his freedom. It was set up shortly after Derakhshan was arrested and currently boasts just over 4,900 signatures. A Facebook group with the same goal has just over 2,000 members.
In the meantime, the Canadian government is also monitoring the situation.
"We will continue to press the Iranian authorities on Mr. Derakhshan’s behalf and urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice," Cannon said.
Ottawa demands release of Iran’s ‘blogfather’
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Ottawa is ratcheting up pressure on the Iranian government to release Hossein Derakhshan, the controversial Iranian-Canadian “blogfather” who was sentenced to 19½ years in prison by a revolutionary court.
“If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable,” Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon said in a statement.
“Canada believes that no one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one’s inherent right to freedom of expression,” he said, adding Canadian officials are still seeking consular access to Mr. Derakhshan, who is being held in a revolutionary guard jail within Iran’s notorious Evin prison complex.
Mr. Derakhshan, 35, is widely known by his online name “Hoder.” He was born in Iran, but moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen in early adulthood. He is a staunch advocate of free expression in Iran, and became known as the “blogfather” of Iran’s on-line community for training pro-democracy advocates to blog and podcast in the late nineties. Later, he apologized for his dissenting views, and emerged as an unlikely supporter of the regime, at one point comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a modern-day Che Guevara.
So when the Iranian government invited him to travel to Iran in 2008, he accepted, thinking he would help his country reach out to the world, according to friends and family. Upon his arrival, however, another branch of the government arrested him.
On Tuesday, he was convicted of insulting Islamic thought and religious figures, managing obscene websites and co-operating with “enemy states” because he visited Israel five years ago. He was also ordered to pay the equivalent of approximately $45,000 in fines.
“It’s not as bad as a death sentence, but it’s an awful and really bad sentence for someone that’s only writing,” Mr. Derakhshan’s former wife, Marjan Alemi told CBC’s The Current.
“He went back thinking he could go back to Iran and help,” she added.
Ms. Alemi said Mr. Derakhshan has spent most of the two years preceding his trial in solitary confinement.
“He can’t exercise. He can’t have books. He can see his family for only five or 10 minutes a week,” Ms. Alemi said. Neither the family’s lawyer, nor any representative from the Canadian government were present at his trial.
While Mr. Derakhshan’s family has the right to appeal the ruling, they are not hopeful.
“He’s always very positive, but I don’t think anybody can keep strong for 19½ years,” his former wife said.
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based advocacy group, issued a statement saying that “never has such a tough sentence been handed to a blogger in Iran.”
“This case, fabricated from start to finish, shows that part of the regime wants to make Hossein Derakhshan into an example.”
The group’s statement said Mr. Derakhshan’s sentence was due to “internal rivalries and struggles for influence inside the regime. We ask Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to intervene personally to free him as soon as possible.”
Some observers have drawn parallels between Mr. Derakhshan’s case and that of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Canadian journalist who was imprisoned by the Iranian government for 118 days before he was released on bail last October, under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
So far, Mr. Derakhshan’s case has failed to ignite similar expressions of sympathy.
Mr. Cannon’s statement was the strongest issued yet: “We will continue to press the Iranian authorities on Mr. Derakhshan’s behalf and urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice,” it read.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bahari, who has returned to London where he is based as a correspondent with Newsweek magazine, is calling for the United Nations to intervene by assigning a human rights monitor to Iran.
“Hossein’s case is tragic, puzzling and mind-boggling,” Mr. Bahari said, noting Mr. Derakhshan’s support for the regime didn’t seem to mitigate the harshness of his sentence.
“This is a regime that’s treating its friends like that,” he said, “so you can imagine how it is treating its enemies.”