Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hossein Derakhshan: Blogger jailed in Iran

Hossein Derakhshan. Source: Daniel Lubetzky's Journal.
The sentencing of an acclaimed blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, is yet another reminder of the dwindling right to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and the right to hold opinions in Iran.

Hossein Derakhshan, 35, is a prominent Iranian-Canadian blogger, who is credited with pioneering blogging in Iran. "The Blogfather" as he is fondly called, was arrested 2008, detained for almost 2 years and sentenced to 19.5 years in jail on 28 September 2010 by Iran's Revolutionary Court.

What's his crime?

In 2006, Hossein Derakhshan made a controversial visit to Israel in an attempt to "humanize Israel for Iranians." While in Israel, he sought to show thousands of Iranians who read his blog what life is like in Israel. He explained his trip to Israel in the following words:
"This might mean that I won't be able to go back to Iran for a long time, since Iran doesn't recognize Israel, has no diplomatic relations with it, and apparently considers traveling there illegal. Too bad, but I don't care. Fortunately, I'm a citizen of Canada and I have the right to visit any country I want. I'm going to Israel as a citizen journalist and a peace activist. As a citizen journalist, I'm going to show my 20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel really looks like and how people live there. The Islamic Republic has long portrayed Israel as an evil state, with a consensual political agenda of killing every single man and woman who prays to Allah, including Iranians. I'm going to challenge that image. As a peace activist, I'm 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. I'm going to tell them how any kind of violent action against Iran would only harm the young people who are gradually reforming the system and how the radicals would benefit from such situation."
Hossein Derakhshan's visit to Israel was highly publicized and it arguably didn't sit well with Iranian authorities. It is against this background that in November 2008, he was arrested in Tehran on accusation of spying for Israel.

Amnesty International notes that Hossein Derakhshan was convicted for:
  • "Cooperating with hostile states" 
  • "Propaganda against the system" 
  • "Propaganda in favor of counter revolutionary groups" 
  • "Insults to the holy sanctities", and...
  • "the setup and management of vulgar and obscene websites."
 The questionable circumstances surrounding the arrest, detention and conviction of Hossein Derakhshan cannot be overlooked. Everyone has the right to freely express views and opinions without State interference. But as stated by the Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme, Iranian authorities are good at bringing "vaguely worded charges... against those who peacefully express dissent."

In a related story, the fate of 43-year-old Iranian mother of 2, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani - sentenced to death by stoning remains unknown.

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