Two decades in prison for Iranian blogger

Hossein Derakhshan, an influential Iranian-Canadian blogger who was arrested two years ago when he returned from self-imposed exile to live in Iran, was sentenced to 19.5 years.

An Iranian news Web site reported today that Hossein Derakhshan, an influential Iranian-Canadian blogger who was arrested two years ago when he returned from self-imposed exile to live in Iran, was sentenced to nearly two decades in prison by a court in Tehran.

As Cyrus Farivar, an Iranian-American journalist, noted on his blog, Iran's Mashregh News reported today that Derakhshan was sentenced to 19.5 years in jail for "conspiring with hostile governments, spreading propaganda against the Islamic system, spreading propaganda in favor of counterrevolutionary groups, blasphemy, and creating and managing obscene Web sites."

The pro-government site, which referred to Derakhshan as a "counter-revolutionary blogger," added that the court also banned him from taking part in politics or working in the media for five years and ordered him to forfeit what it called "received funds in the amount of 30,750 Euros, 2,900 U.S. Dollars and 200 British Pounds."

On its Web site, The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that a source close to Derakhshan's family confirmed the news and added: "Neither the family nor the lawyer knew about the sentence, they read the news online."

The human rights group said that Derakhshan's family was "shocked" by the sentence, although, as noted in a prior Lede post on his trial, the prosecutor in the case had reportedly asked the court for the blogger's execution.

Derakhshan was nicknamed Iran's "Blogfather" for his role in making it technically possible to blog in Persian and for his inspiring many young Iranians to take up the form.

But, as The Associated Press points out, Derakhshan "was a controversial figure among Iran's blogging community." As Ehsan Norouzi of Deutsche Welle explained recently, Derakhshan, who started blogging as a critic of Iran's government during a self-imposed exile in Toronto, Paris, and London, had apparently toned down his political rhetoric in the years before he elected to return to Iran in 2008.

In this interview with the video blog Rocketboom in New York in 2005, Derakhshan explained his thinking on Iran's nuclear program and urged Americans to support Iran's democratic reformists.

In 2006, he blogged about breaking an Iranian taboo by visiting Israel, as, in his words, "a citizen journalist and a peace activist." Video he posted of himself during that trip is still on his YouTube channel. When he was asked during an interview with CBC later that year (embedded below) if he could return to Iran, he said, "I'd love to go back, but I don't think I can--especially after the trip to Israel."

But two years later, after writing in favor of Iran's nuclear program and falling out with former friends, he appeared as a pundit on Iran's state-supported Press TV to laud Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his performance at the United Nations.

Just two weeks after he returned to Tehran, Derakhshan was arrested and has been in jail ever since.

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