Thursday, October 22, 2009

'Who is holding my son? What are the charges?': Blogger Hossein Derakhshan's father sends open letter to judiciary chief

The father of a prominent Iranian blogger has written an open letter to Iran's judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani almost a year after his son's arrest.

Hassan Derakhshan, father of Hossein Derakhshan, expressed concern that he and his family had yet to be informed of which authorities are holding his son or the charges against him. A translation of his letter can be found at the end of this article.

Hossein Derakhshan was arrested at his family's home in Tehran on November 1, 2008, but news of the detention did not reach foreign media until later that month. He had returned to Iran in October.

The Internet activist's prior trip to his homeland had been in the summer of 2005 to cover the presidential election which brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. He was detained for a week during that visit and made to sign a letter of apology for writing about 'taboo subjects.'

Hossein Derakhshan is known as the 'Blogfather' for his key contributions to popularizing blogs in Iran, initially as a digital culture journalist for two reformist newspapers which were shut down and subsequently as a popular blogger also known as Hoder. He published a seminal guide on how to create Farsi weblogs on Blogger after moving to Canada in 2000. Iran has become one of the top ten blogging nations in the world since then.

Derakhshan has advocated the use of blogs as instruments of political and social activism. In 2003, he began a campaign against Internet censorship in Iran. (To view a video of a seminar on the topic of reform, youth, and technology in Iran, presented by Derakhshan at Umea University, Sweden, click here.)

He made a highly publicized trip to Israel in 2006, which may be one of the reasons for his arrest. Of that visit and its goals he wrote:
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.

An Israeli television report made during that trip includes interviews with Derakhshan in English:

Later that year, Derakhshan posted a number of articles in defense of Iran's nuclear program. He also strongly denounced the U.S.'s bellicose stance towards the Islamic Republic of Iran:
The more the clash between the west and Iran escalates, the more convinced I become that the west's real problem with the Islamic Republic of Iran is not its nuclear activities, its level of democracy, its human rights record, or its support for "terrorist" groups. [...] Increasingly, a lot of secular Iranians, like myself, are figuring that even if Iran is turned into the most democratic, secular, fair and peaceful state on earth, there is no guarantee the US won't find another excuse to try to overthrow its government. It will start bullying Iran for its "devastating role" in climate change, or animal rights, or - who knows? - for obesity. I'm not saying this as a fervent religious man with sexy Ahmadinejad's posters on my wall. In fact, I am an atheist and this can easily get me into serious trouble in any Islamic country. I did not vote for Ahmadinejad and I would do anything to democratically bring him down. [...] I am even a victim of the paranoid state of Iran that censors criticism and punishes dissent for fear of foreign-backed revolt. [...] Of course I do have the dream of an open, free, fair and secular Iran, run by competent and representative officials, and in peace with the whole world, obviously including Israel. However, I believe the Islamic Republic is a valuable cause, worth defending and, at its worst, is way better than anything that the United States or anyone else can bring to Iran. If the US waged a war against Iran, I would absolutely go back and defend Iran.

Derakhshan further lost support among Iranian reformists because of his grudging respect for Ahmadinejad. He ridiculed the New York Sun's call for Ahmadinejad to be kidnapped while attending the UN General Assembly in September of 2008. As reported in The Times, Derakhshan wrote, 'They don't know how big this man's balls are.'

But despite his turbulent and complex worldview, Derakhshan's democratic credentials and dedication to his country are difficult to dismiss.

While he has wasted away in an Iranian prison cell, his orphaned blogs have disappeared from the cyberspace he had championed so passionately. A visitor to HoderInIran is informed that the domain name expired on October 9, 2009, and is pending renewal or deletion. has also expired.

Another free Iranian voice has been silenced, at least for now.


The following is a translation of Hassan Derakhshan's open letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani:

In the name of God.

Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, Honorable President of the Judiciary,

With greetings and respect,

One year has gone by since the arrest of my son, Hossein Derakhshan.

In the months, days, and hours that have passed, my hope and that of my wife and family has been to see my son's case treated accordingly by religious rulings and in the shadow of Islamic justice's benevolence.

This letter is our first publicized reaction in twelve months, which shows the extent of our hope that the legal framework would be respected within the borders of our dear country. It goes without saying that on numerous occasions we rejected the requests of foreign media for news about Hossein's situation, even when the worst rumors about his mistreatment were reported in semi-official media outlets. No authorities would deny these extremely distressing news reports -- not to comfort the turmoil in our hearts, but to protect the independence of justice in this case.

In all this time, we have visited our child on only two short, minutes-long occasions. Imagine, a few minutes every six months! I declare that we have no knowledge of his legal situation. No trial has been set and it is unclear which security authority or body has custody of him. We have tried many times to obtain detailed information about his situation, but have not succeeded.

Is this the result that must be expected from the composed and respectful behavior of a prisoner's family? In his remarks and writings, my son has expressed his desire to serve his country and he returned to Iran of his own free will to respond to the accusations against him. Is this a suitable way to greet a person who has returned to the bosom of his beliefs and homeland?

Our complaint is not against the enforcement of the law, but rather is directed at the state of uncertainty and ignorance we have been kept in and the lack of attention to the law. The accused have rights. The families of the accused have rights. In the same manner that the sovereignty of society is to be respected, and order and rules are precious.

I request that you order that my son Hossein Derakhshan's family be informed of the state of his case. Which authority is holding him? Which judge is overseeing his case and what are the charges against him?

I am sure that Your Excellency would agree that one year of detention is not an appropriate greeting to a person who has voluntarily returned to the bosom of Iran and dear Islam. My wife, my family, and I await your just deportment.

With respect, (handwritten)
Hassan Derakhshan

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