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Hossein Derakhshan, Now Detained for Over a Year
Ethan Zuckerman, 3 Nov 09

Hosseinsatrapi.jpg Hossein Derakhshan (”Hoder”) has now been in prison in Iran for more than a year. My friend Cyrus Farivar has followed his case closely, and has been in touch with Hoder’s family, who confirm that he’s beeing held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Reports from the activist group Human Rights in Iran suggest that Hoder has been held in solitary confinement for long periods of time, beaten and otherwise mistreated, and that Hoder was considering a hunger strike to protest his extended detention.

I’ve written about Hossein’s detention previously – it’s a complicated topic, as Hoder’s a complicated guy, and understanding his wishes is a difficult matter. Hoder held Iranian and Canadian passports, and according to a CBC article on his detention, may have believed that the Canadian passport would have made it more difficult for Iranian authorities to detain him when he came home. More to the point, I think, Hoder had a political change of heart and became an outspoken supporter of Ahmedinejad – angering and alienating most of his reformist colleagues inside and outside Iran – and believed that the Iranian system would handle his “transgressions” – trips to Israel, critical articles on his blog – in a just fashion. As such, he told his friends that he didn’t want a campaign for his release if arrested, especially not a campaign led by the US human rights community.

I’ve thought a great deal about my conversations with Hossein before his return to Iran. In retrospect, it seems clear that he expected to be arrested and questioned and perhaps detained for some weeks while the government punished him for his transgressions and assessed his political change of heart. At the same time, I don’t believe that Hossein believed that he’d be held for so long, treated so badly and cut off from contact with his family. The few clues we’ve gotten about his state of mind from contact with his family suggests that he regrets asking friends not to agitate for his release, and is now deeply worried (understandably so) that no one is working to secure his freedom.

Hossein’s family has come around as well – Cyrus published a translation of a letter from Hossein’s father, Hassan Derakhshan to the head of the Iranian judiciary, explaining that he and his family had patiently refused requests from western media to comment on Hossein’s arrest, expecting that he would receive fair treatment from the courts system:

In all these months, days, and hours, my family, my wife and I were hoping that in the arms of Islamic law and the mercy of the Islamic judiciary, Hossein’s case will be dealt with in the way it deserves

There is no need to mention the numerous times that we refused the requests of foreign media to explain Hossein’s situation…

Our complaint is not because you are exercising the law, but to the contrary, because of its suspension, lack of information and disrespecting of the law. The accused have rights, the family of the accused has some rights…

If the question had been whether the international community should become involved with advocating for Hossein’s release, the question is now what that community could effectively do. Circumstances have changed dramatically in Iran since Hoder went into prison. The protests after the July elections helped cement the view of Iranian authorities that online spaces were dangerous ones when used by activists, an interpretation that may explain Hossein’s extended detention, as he’s widely acknowledged as one of the first Iranian bloggers and a major promoter of blogging tools in Iran. As such, an online campaign for his release, supported by the blogging community, is unlikely to lead directly to his release. And, as Cyrus points out in a story for PRI’s The World, it’s unclear how many of his old friends are still willing to support him, given his change in views.

The reason to write about Hoder and support campaigns like the Free Hoder blog is not to influence the Iranian government, but to urge the Canadian government to do whatever they can. Hoder holds a Canadian, as well as an Iranian passport, and while Iran doesn’t respect dual nationality, Canada does, and has an obligation to push for Hossein’s release. Cyrus has been regularly calling Canadian authorities to seek updates, but has received little information from those inquiries. My hope is that by continuing to discuss Hossein’s detention, we can call attention to the ongoing situation and urge Canadian authorities to push for his release. But even knowing that Hossein is now looking for the world’s help in pushing for his release, it’s very hard to know what to do.

This piece originally appeared on My heart's in Accra.

Image Credit: Free Hoder Campaign

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