For anyone blogging in the US or most other democratic countries, it’s easy to take freedom of speech for granted. The case of Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger who was just sentenced to 19 years in prison, is a salutary reminder of the dangers individuals face when simply voicing their thoughts in a country like Iran. Earlier reports that he might get a death sentence are believed to have been a way to make his actual sentence appear in some way lenient.
At IPS, Omid Memarian writes:
Arrested in October 2008, Derakhshan had been charged with “cooperation with hostile states” and “propagating against the regime”, among other counts, the site said. In addition to the lengthy prison term, he was fined and banned from membership in political parties and work in the media for a period of five years.
“We are shocked,” one of Derakhshan’s relatives told IPS on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case and fears of a backlash by security forces. “We never expected this to happen. Even according to Iranian laws, he has not done anything to deserve such a harsh sentence.”
Neither the family nor Derakhshan’s lawyer was aware of the sentence until it appeared on Mashreq’s website. His relative told IPS that Derakhshan did say that after two years in prison, “My state of uncertainty has finally ended,” referring to his long detention without any progress in his case.
Mohammad Ali Mahdavi, Derakhshan’s lawyer, told IPS that the verdict still has not been announced even to him. “I’m waiting for the official announcement to start working on the defence bill for the appeals court,” he said, adding, “I prefer to defend my client rather than bringing the case to the media as it might endanger the fate of the case at this phase.”
Judge Abolqasem Salavati is amongst three judges who are well-known for issuing long and harsh sentences for political prisoners, particularly the post-election detainees. His rulings have included the death sentence and numerous long-term prison sentences.
“I believe that first of all, the charges are totally unfounded, and the verdict demonstrates the injustice that many people have been talking about all these years,” Nikahang Kowsar, an award-winning Iranian cartoonist and blogger based in Toronto, where Derakhshan used to live, told IPS.
“Hossein wasn’t a very nice guy to many of us,” Kowsar said. “He criticised many journalists, bloggers and activists for being critical of the Iranian regime and ridiculing Iran’s leaders. He called us ‘agents of neo-liberalism’ or ‘enemies of Iran’ and tried to portray us as the ones willing to sell our nation to the West, but he was absolutely entitled to express his mind.”
Derakhshan, also known as Hoder, has been dubbed Iran’s “Blogfather” for his role in promoting blogging among Iranians via his popular website, hoder.com.
Immediately following the reform era in 1999, Derakhshan was a technology and internet columnist for one of the reformist newspapers in Tehran. In 2000, he moved to Canada and continued his work as a full-time blogger in Toronto.
In 2006, Derakhshan traveled to Israel as a Canadian citizen, a trip that caused a huge controversy in Iran and abroad, as Iranian law forbids Iranian citizens from traveling to Israel.
“We have a saying in Iran: ‘There is freedom of speech in Iran, but there is no freedom after speech in Iran’,” said Kowsar. “His captors are willing to make an example of him for others,” he added.
Derakhshan’s former wife, Marjan Alema was interviewed on Canadian television earlier today: