Middle East
Iranian blogger given prison term
Hossein Derakhshan, known as the "blogfather," handed nearly 20-year sentence for "propaganda" and "collaboration".
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2010 09:02 GMT
Derakhshan returned to Iran in 2008 and took a more sympathetic tone towards the government [Hossein Derakhshan]

Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian journalists best known for his blogging, has been sentenced to 19-and-a-half years in prison, according to Iranian media.

Derakhshan, 35, was convicted on Tuesday of collaborating with hostile governments, committing blasphemy and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and managing an obscene website, according to Mashregh News.

He has also been banned from participating in political parties or the media for five years and ordered to pay a large fine.

The report mentioned Derakhshan's ability to appeal the ruling, and the Iranian Fars News Agency reportedly also said that Derakhshan can appeal. Derakhshan's personal blog, Hoder.com, was not accessible on Wednesday morning.

The Canadian government called Derakhshan's sentencing "unacceptable and unjustifiable".

"No one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one's inherent right to freedom of expression," Lawrence Cannon, the foreign affairs minister, said. "Iran must release him".

Surprise arrest

A blog maintained by the writer's family and friends, "Justice for Hossein Derakhshan", posted an interview with Derakhshan's mother last week in which she said that Derakhshan seems listless, depressed and is tired of being alone in jail for two years.

Derakhshan was arrested in October 2008 shortly after returning to Iran for the second time in four years. His parents were not allowed into the courtroom during his trial, which began this June, and they told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that both they and Derakhshan's lawyer first heard of his sentencing after reading the Mashregh report online.

The judge in the case called Derakhshan's family to confirm the verdict and sentence, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said, citing Derakhshan's partner, Sandrine Murcia.

"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 group said. "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".

Derakhshan had cleared his 2008 return to Iran with the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad, his mother said, so he assumed he would be questioned by authorities, but not arrested.

Change of tone

Derakhshan had earned the nickname "the blogfather" for his role in spurring a popular blogging movement among mostly young Iranians. He holds dual Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and in 2001 moved to Canada, where he launched a blog, called "Editor: Myself," that became widely read in Iran and among Iranian expatriates.

He also posted an online Persian-language guide to help other Iranians start their own blogs.

Derakhshan returned to Iran briefly in 2004 to work for a reformist political candidate, according to the Canadian magazine Macleans, but soon left. In 2006, he visited Israel and blogged about his experience there, saying he wanted to show both Israelis and Iranians different pictures of their two countries.

But when Derakhshan returned again to Iran in 2008, his tone seemed to change abruptly, according to Macleans. He gave an interview to the state-run Press TV network that praised president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's international diplomacy and criticised Israel and the Israeli lobby in the US. According to his mother's interview, Derakhsha used Press TV's office for high-speed internet and had discussed getting a job in their Tehran office.

Derakhshan's role at the time was "to present an acceptable face of the Islamic Republic to Western intellectuals", Potkin Azarmehr, a London-based Iranian blogger, wrote at the time.

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