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September 28 2010

21:28

The persecution of Hoder

Very troubling news about Hossein Derakhshan, the Iranian blog pioneer known online as Hoder: He received a prison sentence of 19.5 years in Iran for being an “anti-revolutionary blogger.”

I’m personally heartbroken. I first met Hoder online when I happened upon his blog as he announced that another Iranian blogger, Sina Motalebi, had been arrested. Sina, who is now working for the BBC in London, just emailed me, by coincidence, when I asked below about the idea of publicness. Sina had announced in public on his blog that he had been summoned to the police. Hoder blogged it. I did. Many others did. He believes that public attention helped get him out of prison and enabled him to escape the country.

Hoder’s story is much more complicated. When I met him online, he was in Canada, where he’d become a citizen. Some gave him credit for starting the amazing Iranian blogosphere; others don’t. He has always been controversial. He was critical of the Iranian regime. He went to Israel and made friends (and lost friends) there — which is one of his so-called crimes: “cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime, propagation in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, and implementation and management of obscene websites.” Then, just as suddenly, he turned the other way and started supporting Iran’s government and even its right to have nuclear weapons. He asked me to link to posts that made such statements. I was over my head in Iranian politics as I heard other online expats criticize him. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then Hoder mysteriously returned to Iran. Some say he’d been given assurances that he’d be OK. Others say that he is caught in a power struggle. Again, I know too little. He was arrested two years ago. His family stayed silent in hopes that things would work out. That’s why I said nothing.

But now he has been sentenced. No matter what his opinions were or what opinions you may have had about him, that doesn’t matter now. We should all be outraged, loudly outraged. For — as I said when Hoder told me about Sina’s arrest — a blogger, one of us, has been arrested and imprisoned for what he has said. If anyone should stand up for the right of free speech of a blogger it should be us, bloggers.

What to do? Ethan Zuckerman suggests we pressure Canada to pressure Iran for his release. On the Media reports (when there were still rumors that Hoder could have received the death penalty) that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The Canadian government is protesting:

“We are deeply concerned about the news of this severe sentence,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said. “If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable.”
“No one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one’s inherent right to freedom of expression,” he said, adding that “Iran must release him.”

The Globe and Mail editorialized for his freedom:

Mr. Derakshan’s views and ways may not be to everyone’s liking – he doesn’t fit neatly as either a state propagandist or an agitator for democracy. But free speech is often inconvenient; indeed, that is one of the reasons why free people should be agitating for his release.

: Here is my original post announcing Sina’s arrest as reported by Hoder. (Please ignore the damned spam links in my archives; I don’t know how to clean them up.)

November 05 2009

23:28

Hossein Derakhshan's Arrest: One Year Later

It's been over a year now since the arrest of Hossein Derakhshan, popularly known as Hoder. Ever since he wrote the first Persian-language blogging guide in November 2001, he has helped pioneer the Iranian blogging community while living in his adopted home of Toronto. (Derakhshan is a dual citizen of Iran and Canada.)

However, beginning in 2006, Derakhshan's views started changing. He called for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and engaged in personal attacks against people that he disagreed with politically. He was even sued for libel by another Iranian in September 2007.

A year later, he returned to his homeland for the second time in nearly ten years. While there, he continued to espouse very nationalistic views. His family had advised against his return, but Derakhshan went anyway, and was arrested on November 1, 2008.

This is the story of how he got to this point, and an examination of the lack of information his family has received from Iranian and Canadian authorities up until this point.

This original audio report for MediaShift is based on interviews with people who knew Derakhshan in Iran, and archival tape of interviews conducted with Derakhshan:

You can read Derakhshan's blog, which is now offline, via the Internet Archive.

Addendum

Earlier this week, MetaFilter, users discovered that Hoder.com was set to expire at the end of this month. They wanted to make sure it stayed in Derakhshan's name. Some users suggested that the registrar wouldn't allow the domain to be renewed unless Derakhshan did it himself, which was of course impossible. However, later in the day, the domain's whois records showed that it had been renewed it for a year, though it was unclear how or why it had happened. It ends up that GoDaddy stepped in to renew the domain for him. Read my report on what happened.

Cyrus Farivar is an Iranian-American freelance technology journalist, a freelance radio reporter/producer, and is a wanderlust geek who lives in the city of Oakland, California. He regularly reports for National Public Radio, The World (WGBH/PRI/BBC), and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also freelances for The Economist, Foreign Policy, Slate, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, and Wired. He is currently working on a book, "The Internet of Elsewhere," about the history and effects of the Internet on different countries around the world, including Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. It is due out from Rutgers University Press in 2010.

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