My friend, Canadian/Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has been imprisoned in Iran since November 2008. A few days ago, we got the disturbing news that Tehran’s prosecutor would seek the death penalty for Hossein’s alleged offenses: “collaborating with enemy states, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime, insulting religious sanctity, and creating propaganda for anti-revolutionary groups.”
For many people who know Hossein, his decision to return to Iran in 2008 was a surprise. His previous and widely documented travel to Israel made it likely that he would be prosecuted on returning home. Maziar Bahari, a Canadian/Iranian journalist who had previously been detained in Iran (in part because of an interview he did with The Daily Show’s Jason Jones), helped explain Hossein’s miscalculation. In an interview with On the Media, Bahari explains that Hossein may have been promised by the Ministry of Intelligence that he’d be able to return to Iran safely. (Hoder began his blogging career supporting reformist politicians. Later in his career, he became concerned that the Bush administration would invade Iran, and he became an outspoken supporter of Ahmedinejad.) Once he returned to Tehran, members of the Revolutionary Guard chose to arrest Hossein, perhaps to send a message to anyone who would use digital media to organize politically. Bahari describes Hoder’s situation as “a clear case of the internal battle between the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence.”
What’s most helpful about Bahari’s interview is that he offers insight on what might help with Hossein’s release: “In my case, and in case of many other dual citizens, including Roxana Saberi, if the second country of that person – in my case, Canada, in Roxana’s case, the United States – if they’re vocal about their citizens, then the Iranian government listens and reacts to the actions of the foreign government.”
Canada hasn’t been especially vocal in pushing for Hossein’s release. My friend Cyrus Farivar has been regularly calling Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and getting unsatisfying answers. His most recent exchange is here.
If Bahari is right, he’s suggesting a possible strategy for the groups trying to advocate for Hossein’s release: pressure Canada. Specifically, the Honorable Lawrence Cannon, the minister of Foreign Affairs. Contact information for his office is here. My guess is that inquiries from Hossein’s fellow Canadians, to the Minister as well as to individual members of parliament would carry more weight than inquiries from citizens of other nations. For my Canadian readers, I hope you might consider contacting your government in the hopes that they’ll more actively seek release for your fellow citizen.
Update: The Iranian government has sentenced Hossein to 19.5 years in prison. While everyone is happy that he’s not facing execution, this is an absurd and unfair sentence for a man who did nothing more than share his thoughts online. I hope readers who are inclined will continue to pressure the Canadian government to act on his behalf.