September 22, 2010

Toronto blogger facing Death Penalty

CANADA/POLITICS - Hossein Derakhshan, aka "Hoder the Blogfather", became a Canadian citizen during the early 2000s and lived in Toronto for a period of 8 years before visiting Israel and then Iran in 2008.

He'd been operating his blog out of Toronto for many years, showing his fellow Persians online how to create Persian-based websites and blogs. But during his 2008 trip to Iran he was nabbed by Iranian authorities and has been held for the last 2 years under propaganda charges.

Yesterday prosecutors for Derakhshan's case requested the death penalty.

A spokesperson from the Free Hoder campaign called the news “horrific.”

Derakhshan’s cyber crusader story isn't completely clear cut. When radical hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got into power in 2006 Derakhshan started off as being very critical of Ahmadinejad's regime, but then later did an U-turn and began defending the regime. The controversial move annoyed a lot of his dedicated blog readers.

Before he came to Canada Derakhshan was a newspaper reporter in Tehran before marrying and moving to Canada in 2000. He later got divorced, started his website (which is no longer available), and learned how to modify blog software to use the Persian alphabet.

He single handedly started an avalanch of Persian bloggers, which in turn has sparked a revolution of free speech in Iran because now its really easy for Iranians to start their own blog or website and speak out against the atrocities and corruption going on in the country.

FACT: Persian is now the 2nd most used language in the blogosphere. It is the busiest and noisiest in the world.

According to former readers Derakhshan not only pioneered the Persian blogging community, he was instrumental about starting a debate about the rights of bloggers and the threats they face. Derakhshan loves courting controversy too. His trip to Israel and his shifting allegiances in 2006 when he started defending Iran's pursuit of nuclear arms brought in 10,000 visitors per day.

Ironically he even questioned whether jailed citizen-journalist dissidents were really innocent, according to former readers.

While his motivations for his shifting allegiances remain a mystery, when he was jailed in November 2008 after arriving in Tehran for a visit, public outcry at the time was muted. But now that he may be executed for exercising his freedom of speech bloggers around the world have picked up the call for action.

Check out the Free Hussein Derakhshan facebook page.

The video below was made in 2006, prior to Derakhshan's capture in Iran.

Derakhshan is not the only person who has faced or is currently facing execution in Iran:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani - 43-year-old mother sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in 2006. Iran’s judiciary says it has suspended the stoning sentence but claims that she is also guilty of participating in the murder of her husband. A final decision is still pending.

Hamid Ghassemi-Shall - Iranian-born Canadian has been in detention since a family visit to Iran two years ago. His wife, Antonella Mega, says his appeals have run out and he faces a death sentence. It is unknown what charges he faces.

Helmut Hoffer - German businessman accused of having an illicit sexual relationship with an Iranian woman and sentenced to death in 1998. The sentence was quashed and Hoffer later released in 2000.

Jalil Mahdi Salih Nu’aymi - Swedish citizen executed in 1990 for co-operation with a foreign intelligence service.

Helmut Szimkus - German sentenced to death in 1992 for espionage, later pardoned after intense German lobbying.

Roger Cooper - Businessman and former journalist is sentenced to death for espionage activities in 1985. He eventually served five years and four months in prison.

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