Monday, September 29, 2014
By Michaela Cavanagh Four years ago today, Iranian-Canadian journalist and blogger Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison. Dubbed the “blogfather” of Iran, the 39-year-old Derakhshan began blogging when he moved to Toronto from Tehran in 2000, pioneering the medium as a mechanism of the opposition movement. He began the first Farsi-language blog in Iran called “Editor: Myself,” and published a Farsi manual on blogging. On a trip back to Iran in November 2008, Derakhshan was arrested and held without due process for nearly two years. He was eventually charged with insulting religious leaders, cooperating with hostile states and spreading propaganda against the regime. In December 2010, Derakhshan was released for two days on an “unprecedented” bail of $1.5 million USD. In June 2011, Derakhshan’s family lost their appeal, and Iran upheld his conviction. In October, 2013, Derakhshan’s sentence was reduced to 17 years, which means he is scheduled to be released in 2027. Following his release, Derakhshan must comply with a five-year ban on political and journalistic activities. Until his arrest, Derakhshan had worked as a citizen journalist and activist nearly 10 years, writing for reformist newspapers and covering beats such as digital culture. As stated in CJFE’s 2010-11 Review of Free Expression in Canada, Derakhshan was a reformist before supporting President Mahmod Ahmadinejad’s government, making him a somewhat controversial figure. Upon his sentencing in 2010, Reporters Without Borders denounced the decision, calling Derakhshan’s sentence the “longest ever” for a blogger in Iran. The organization noted, “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 International Campaign for Human Rights for Iran wrote that according to a source close to Derakhshan’s family, “after his 2008 arrest, Derakhshan spent nearly ten months in solitary confinement, completely isolated from the outside world, and was subjected to beatings.” While the mainstream media coverage was plentiful in 2010, it has dried up as the years pass. His family maintains a blog where they post news regarding his case, but it has not been updated since April 2013. Maintaining the visibility of Derakhshan and other prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly incarcerated is essential if we are to move towards greater respect for free expression in Iran. On this anniversary, we continue to remember Hossein Derakhshan and call for his release, along with all prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Michaela Cavanagh is a communications and documentation officer for a human rights NGO in the Dominican Republic.
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