IRAN: Persian 'blogfather' Hossein Derakhshan sentenced to 19 years
Hossein Derakhshan, known as the Iranian "blogfather" for starting one of the first Persian-language blogs, has been sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison on charges related to his writing and his visit to Israel, according to the Iranian website Mashreq News. He was also banned from joining any political or journalistic organization and fined over $40,000.
Derakhshan was arrested two years ago when he returned to Iran after receiving assurances from the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad that he would not face any penalties apart from questioning, his family has said.
The report comes on the heels of rumors that prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty on charges of espionage. If true, the Mashreq News report indicates that the charges against Derakhshan may have been downgraded from spying to "cooperation with hostile governments." In 2006, Derakhshan blogged about traveling to Israel using his Canadian passport.
Derakhshan is a controversial figure in the Iranian blogosphere. Shortly after his trip to Israel, he turned on his former fellow reformists and become an outspoken supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading many to speculate he had been co-opted or threatened by Iranian authorities.
The press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders released a statement condemning the verdict in his case and accusing the Iranian government of attempting to make an example out of Derakhshan.
"Such a long jail term has never before been imposed on a blogger in Iran," the statement said. "He is the victim of political rivalry within the government and the case against him was fabricated.
"Canada and the rest of the international community must press for this harsh sentence to be quashed and for Derakhshan to be freed at once," it added.
So far, over 7,000 people have signed an online petition seeking Derakhshan's freedom. According to Mashreq News, the case can still be appealed.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Hossein Derakhshan. Credit: Payvand News