Hossein Derakhshan is now facing 19 years in an Iranian prison. PEN Canada will dedicate an empty chair to him throughout the Toronto authors' festival, which starts Wednesday. ((Facebook))

PEN Canada plans to focus on the plight of Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian journalist and blogger who has been jailed in Tehran, in its annual campaign to draw attention to imprisoned writers.

At the annual PEN benefit that kicks off the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on Wednesday, a chair will sit empty for Derakhshan, who was sentenced last month to 19 years in an Iranian prison.

The empty chair, which sits on stage during festival readings, is a symbol of the absence of an imprisoned writer and the need to protect freedom of speech around the world.

Derakhshan, 35, is known as "the blogfather" for his pioneering blog, which he created and ran from Canada.

His Farsi language blogging manual encouraged a whole generation of Iranians, both inside and outside the country, to use the internet to speak freely and circumvent strict Iranian laws controlling the media.

He was arrested Nov. 1, 2008, in Tehran and initially faced the death penalty. PEN and Canadians for Free Expression have campaigned for his release and the Canadian government has also pressured Tehran.

On Nov. 15, the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN Canada plans to step up its campaign focusing on Derakhshan's case.

The PEN benefit Oct. 20 to open IFOA will feature CBC's Eleanor Wachtel interviewing Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land.