An Iranian-Canadian blogger imprisoned in Iran since 2008 on charges of creating anti-Iranian propaganda faces the death penalty, according to two prominent Canadian rights groups.
Hossein Derakhshan, nicknamed the Blogfather and considered the founder of the Iranian blogging movement, was arrested in Tehran on Nov. 1, 2008.
He was tried over the past few months on charges of collaborating with enemy states, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime, insulting religious sanctity and creating propaganda for anti-revolutionary groups.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and PEN Canada, which both champion free expression rights, said Tuesday Derakhshan's brother had told them the prosecutor in Derakhshan's case had called for the death penalty. A judge in Tehran has yet to deliver his verdict, CJFE said in a press release.
Derakhshan, 35, is considered the first blogger to help other Iranians post weblogs in the Persian language. He moved to Toronto in 2000 from his native Iran after the reformist newspaper he'd worked for in Tehran was closed by the authorities. He is now a Canadian citizen.
Iran's blogging 'poster boy'
His own blog posts were highly critical of the clerical regime in Tehran and of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Using the online name "Hoder," he also wrote often of the relationship between Iran and Israel, which he viewed as flawed and based on false premises. He visited Israel twice, in 2006 and 2007, in violation of Iranian law. (Iran does not recognize Israel's existence.)
"He is the poster boy for blogging and dissent in Iran," Arnold Amber, the president of the CJFE, told CBC News Wednesday morning.
"The authorities like to clamp down on anybody who's expressing any opinion that they don't like. And he's just been caught up in this web."
'There are ways that you can do things from government to government that possibly give us hope.' —Arnold Amber, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression president
Officials with Canada's Foreign Affairs Department "have been in contact with Iranian authorities, including by diplomatic note and through high-level meetings, to seek consular access," said department spokesman Pierre Floréa.
At issue is Iran's policy of not recognizing dual citizenship, which limits Canada's ability to intervene on behalf of Canadian-Iranians, Floréa told CBC News.
"Despite the Iranian government's position, we consider Mr. Derakhshan to be a Canadian citizen," he said, adding Foreign Affairs would continue to press authorities for access. "Canada continues to urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice."
Amber said the Canadian government has had difficulty even seeing Derakhshan since his incarceration.
"But we do have a formal relationship with the country, and you suspect that, country to country, from time to time things happen," he said. "There are ways that you can do things from government to government that possibly give us hope."