Canadian blogger may face death sentence in Iran

On Tuesday, September 21, 2010, CJFE  and PEN Canada, two prominent Canadian free expression organizations confirmed reports that Canadian Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan may face the death sentence.

The free expression organizations learned from Derakhshan’s family that the Iranian prosecutor in his case has called for the death penalty. On Monday, news started filtering out on social media sites about the possible death sentence, and by Wednesday, Canadian mainstream news media including CBC , the Globe and Mail  and the Toronto Star  were reporting on it.   Derakhshan’s fate is now in the hands of Judge Salavati.

Hossein ‘Hoder’ Derakhshan, often credited as the father of the blogging movement in Iran, was arrested soon after returning to Iran on November 1, 2008, and has been held in the infamous Evin prison since then.  A trial was finally held this summer, and the charges against Derakhshan include ‘collaborating with enemy states, creating propaganda against the Islamic regime, insulting religious sanctity, and creating propaganda for anti-revolutionary groups.’

“We know that the Iranian government listens to outside voices – and it’s vital that they hear our voices now.  The proposed sentence is a travesty,” said CJFE’s President, Arnold Amber. CJFE and PEN Canada are jointly calling on the Canadian government to intervene with the Iranian authorities on behalf of Derakhshan who holds both Canadian and Iranian citizenship. “Action must be taken right away because in Iran there is not necessarily a lengthy period before executions can be carried out. We are very concerned,” Amber added.

This is not the first time that a Canadian journalist has faced reprisals for exercising the right to free expression in Iran.  In July 2003, Canadians were horrified at the killing of Canadian Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Evin prison.  And more recently in the summer of 2009, well-known Canadian Iranian filmmaker and Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari was detained in prison.  He was eventually released partly due to pressure from the United States government.  On May 11, 2010, the the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced the journalist to 13 years in prison and an additional 74 lashes.

“This is a dark day for all who value human rights and free expression,” said Ellen Seligman, President of PEN Canada. “We are deeply disturbed and dismayed to learn that, after nearly two years in prison for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Hossein Derakhshan may now face a death sentence. We ask that all measures be taken by the government of Iran to prevent this action from proceeding further.”

CJFE has asked its members to write in to the Larry King show and ask him to raise this case.  King will be interviewing President Ahmadinejad on Wednesday evening.

The family of Derakhshan is speaking openly about the case.  Derakhshan’s mother Ozra Kiarashpour gave an interview to Iranian online site:  It can be read here.

CJFE and PEN Canada have urged the government of Iran to uphold the human rights of its citizens, ensure that this heinous sentence does not go forward, and provide Derakhshan with his basic rights including complete access to his lawyer, visits from his family and humane treatment.  The organizations also joined with Derakhshan’s family in asking for the Canadian government’s intervention.