The severity of the nearly 20-year jail sentence handed down to veteran Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, left, has shocked many exiled Iranian journalists and bloggers with whom I've spoken. It's also reinforced their belief that the best way to help jailed colleagues is not through quiet diplomacy but by making a lot of noise.
Derakhshan's case made headlines last month when human rights groups reported that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for the writer, dubbed the "blogfather" of Farsi blogging, on a raft of anti-state charges. In the end, a Revolutionary Court sentenced the Iranian-Canadian dual national to nineteen and a half years in prison. His family and lawyer learned of the verdict through the news media."I think Derakhshan's family thought that backdoor conversations and negotiations would work for Hossein. It didn't. I think they should have sued the Islamic Republic in Canada," said exiled cartoonist and blogger Nikahang Kowsar.
Some bloggers ascribe the Derakhshan family's silence to simple threats and intimidation by the Revolutionary Guards. Whatever the reasons, there was no sustained campaign to free him. The government of Canada also took a "quiet diplomacy" approach. This has drawn criticism from some exiles. "They haven't worked on this case ... as they did for the case of Zahra Kazemi," said Memarian, referring to the Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was killed in prison in 2003. Derakhshan's friend, prominent U.S. blogger Ethan Zuckerman, has urged readers to write to Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, to demand greater government action. A spokesperson for Cannon declined to comment but referred me to the minister's statement: "Since learning of Hossein Derakhshan's arrest in November 2008, Canadian government officials have been in contact with Iranian authorities, including by diplomatic note and through high-level meetings, to seek consular access. We will continue to press the Iranian authorities on Mr. Derakhshan's behalf and urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice," Cannon said.U.S. academic Haleh Esfandiari, who was jailed in Evin, agrees. "One has to be guided by the family in Iran, but one has to go public and bring a lot of pressure. ... Within a couple of hours of my arrest, Lee Hamilton and my husband spoke at a press conference. And then for 105 days they didn't stop."
In this spirit, CPJ has joined with other press freedom groups in writing today to Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary, calling for Derakhshan's release. There is also a separate petition by internetsansfrontieres that readers can sign.
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