While official details are scarce, several sources both in Canada and Iran are reporting that Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has been sentenced to death by Iranian authorities.
Derakhshan was arrested in 2008 and has been imprisoned ever since. Although he was imprisoned for over a year without charge, it seems his conviction was on charges of “collaborating with enemy states, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime, insulting religious sanctity and creating propaganda for anti-revolutionary groups;” The charges seem to stem from Derakhshan’s support for dissenting voices within Iran and his visit to Israel four years ago.
Iran has never been shy about its contempt for free speech and independent journalists, so the authorities must have been licking their chops at the opportunity to arrest Derakhshan. He has been a crucial figure in fomenting dissent against Iran online since he started publishing his blog in 2001. He even wrote a guide in Farsi teaching Iranians how to use Blogger.com and write in Unicode. Further, Derakhshan visited Israel as a Canadian citizen in 2006 (Derakhshan has been a Canadian citizen since 2000). It is illegal for Iranian citizens to visit Israel, and since Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, in their eyes he is still Iranian and committed a crime.
Derakhshan is a complex figure. He has been a great organizer of reformist thought, but at the same time he has written in support of Iran’s nuclear program.
The past few years have seen Iran more in flux than any time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. We’re barely a year removed from the start of the 2009 student protests, and the Islamic Republic seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis, between progressive reform and the conservative status quo.
Here’s hoping that Iran reconsiders this harsh sentence. At least the Iranian government has shown itself capable of listening to the outside world, as we saw with the Zahra Kazemi.