The Blogfather
June 24, 2010 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Last year's unprecedented election protests in Iran, would never have been possible if it hadn't been for the pioneering efforts of their country's "Blogfather," (Metafilter's own) Hossein "hoder" Derakhshan. Hoder literally founded the Persian blogging movement in 2001 ("Weblogistan") that gave Iranians a way to speak out about their government on the internet and eventually would provide a global voice to the protesters. But for the last 600 days, Hoder has been imprisoned, interrogated and tortured by the Iranian government, ostensibly on charges he was spying for Israel. In reality his arrest was probably retaliation for "remarks he allegedly made on his blog about a key Shiite cleric and the third infallible Imam of Shiism." Yesterday, he had his first trial. But his plight is not unique.

Hoder's Background
In November, 2001, a young Canadian-based Persian journalist named Hossein Derakhshan created the first bilingual blog about Iran, "Sardabir: khodam," or "Editor: Myself," which encouraged Iranians to speak freely online, giving them a guide to creating a simple blog in ten minutes. He then singlehandedly designed software which allowed Iranians to blog in their native Farsi, without resorting to transliteration in the Roman alphabet. By 2005, his pioneering efforts had sparked a genuine movement: more than 100,000 Persian bloggers, self-nicknamed "Weblogistan", were using the internet to circumvent their country's censorship efforts. Several Persian writers, journalists and politicians became bloggers, and the movement routinely published photos and news items before the government's official, filtered news media could do so. It was this ever-expanding group of tens of thousands of Persians, who had embraced blogging, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, that helped last June's protesters get their message to the outside world.

Hoder was a loud critic of both the Iranian regime and the Bush administration, although in recent years he had become more moderate with regard to Ahmadinejad, and more harshly critical of Israel. Between 2001 and 2008, he became a blogger correspondent for the Washington Post's Global Section, The Guardian and the Huffington Post. In 2003 he founded Stop Censoring Us (which no longer exists.) In 2004, he led protests online when the Iranian government increased their censorship of blogs and news sites. His blog (which has also expired) was then filtered by the Iranian government. In 2005, he was detained and forced to sign an apology over his blog posts before being allowed to leave Iran. He had even traveled to Israel as a peace activist.

In November 2008, he again traveled to Iran and was arrested. The HRA reports that he has been tortured.

Video Q&A with Hoder, before he returned to Iran: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. All from his YouTube Channel.
"The evidence is scant but, as Newsweek reported in December, he is believed to be the "arrested spy" who is providing information being used by government prosecutors in court to concoct a conspiracy theory where outside forces are using antigovernment demonstrators as pawns to destroy Iran. Some think he is being coerced into helping authorities. Others speculate he has changed his political stripes and is now a willing supporter of the Iranian regime's efforts to crack down on its opponents.

But at this point, no one really seems to know."
From today's New York Times:
Cyrus Farivar, an Iranian-American journalist and blogger, pointed out that the start of Mr. Derakhshan’s trial was also reported on the Web site of an Iranian human rights group. Mr. Farivar added:

"Very little new information has been released beyond this fact, although I managed to get this quote via email from an source close to Derakhshan’s family:

“One trial session was held and although no family members were allowed in, but the family remains optimistic that no serious issues exist in his case. Plus, considering the fact that he has already served a long time in prison, most of which has been in solitary confinement, the family doesn’t expect a longer jail sentence. There are more court sessions to be held before the final verdict is out.”
Iranian Political Prisoners

Unfortunately, Hoder's situation is not unique. Amnesty International lists a number of Iranians who were jailed for dissent in 2009. The Iranian political prisoners who aren't lucky enough to be summarily executed are typically subjected to torture, rape, beatings, forced labor, starvation diets and politically-motivated trials based on unfounded evidence.. The Iranian Political Prisoners Association has more.

On the 12th of June, (one year after the election protests,) rallies were held in 87 countries around the world, to raise awareness. See photos and videos, here.
posted by zarq (29 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Many people have been agitating for Hoder's release, including David Ignatius of the Washington Post's Global Section, international human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam, and Hoder's sister, who runs the Free Hoder Blog.

There is also a Free Hossein Derakhshan page on Facebook.
posted by zarq at 1:56 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

My deepest thanks to Burhanistan and Jessamyn, for their support and invaluable suggestions for this post.
posted by zarq at 1:58 PM on June 24, 2010

I wonder if it isn't harmful to Hoder's safety to present him this way as the Godfather of the protest movements.
posted by LarryC at 1:59 PM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I really hope he gets to go home. I also hope he's able to tell his story. I also hope he pops by here.

I've been following this story fairly closely. I feel for the man. He's living my worst nightmare.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fantastic, well-done post. Thank you for putting it all together and keeping the updates going.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2010

Tremendous post. Thanks so much.
posted by bearwife at 2:10 PM on June 24, 2010

Excellent post, zarq. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 2:23 PM on June 24, 2010

Mo’afagh bashed, hoder.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2010

thank you, zarq.
posted by gursky at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2010

Impressive post, zarq.
posted by nola at 4:13 PM on June 24, 2010

Great post, zarq. Kheili mamnun.
posted by languagehat at 4:42 PM on June 24, 2010

Great post, great injustice.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 5:49 PM on June 24, 2010

DAMN! i've met the guy. had no idea he was imprisoned!
*brb, kicking myself*
posted by liza at 7:05 PM on June 24, 2010

I wonder if it isn't harmful to Hoder's safety to present him this way as the Godfather of the protest movements.

I really hope not.

Hopefully Burhanistan's take on it is accurate.
posted by zarq at 8:35 PM on June 24, 2010

Thank you, everyone.
posted by zarq at 8:37 PM on June 24, 2010

Wow, awesome post! Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 9:23 PM on June 24, 2010

Just to be clear: I'm favoriting this FPP because it's excellent, but I do not like the content one bit. Nosiree.

<derail>I wonder what a bibliography of "Good Writing about Bad Things" would look like…</derail>
posted by LMGM at 9:45 PM on June 24, 2010

So of course, I forgot some links: Previously on Metatalk. Some links in this post were taken from comments in those threads without attribution. Thank you, self-medicating, questionsandanchors and everyone else.
posted by zarq at 9:58 PM on June 24, 2010

Last year's unprecedented election protests in Iran, would never have been possible if it hadn't been for

That's a bit of a stretch. That A) the revolution wouldn't have been possible without blogging (or twittering.) and B) that someone else wouldn't have done it if he hadn't.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 PM on June 24, 2010

DAMN! i've met the guy. had no idea he was imprisoned!

In 2005, I was idly reading Salon when I saw a picture of a young American aid worker in Iraq, and I thought, "hey, she looks familiar!" I realized it was someone I had used to run into at parties when I lived in DC. And then, like a punch in the gut, I realized that the article was actually an obituary, for Marla Ruzicka.

So I know the feeling.

posted by lunasol at 11:51 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I need the cliff notes on what is the heart of the matter. I heard some elections were stolen last year, but it is all a huge cloud of smoke given catch-phrases like 'human-rights' and 'Democracy' which any criminal endeavor or organization can latch on to for legitimacy. From where I stand, anything that is in the interest of the Iranian people is a threat to Iran's enemies or US interests.

Metafilter considers him "one of your own" because he embraced technology to raise awareness about his cause. I suspect mefites consider this method inherently democratic, but i find this unlikely. There exists three political camps disagreeing over government all hindered by misinformation. The biggest victims of misinformation being the Americans have failed to illuminate his cause but instinctively rally to him because of his activism. And I've yet to see anyone commenting either way.
posted by Student of Man at 12:25 AM on June 25, 2010

I realized that the article was actually an obituary, for Marla Ruzicka.

Wow, I haven't thought about her in a long time. The RS link from that old post doesn't work anymore, but it's still on Wayback: The Girl Who Tried to Save the World: The heroic life and final days of Marla Ruzicka, an American martyr

And here's something recent: Five Years After Marla Ruzicka's Death, Are Iraqis Being Cared For?
posted by homunculus at 1:20 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Student of Man; You're a troll ? right? Hoder has been "mefi's own" since 22 August 2002. What is / has happened to him sucks - big time. You can go back down your hole again now.
posted by adamvasco at 4:16 AM on June 25, 2010

Student of Man, "Metafilter's Own" is simply an accepted in-site shorthand used to refer to MeFites who are in the news or have achieved some sort of "celebrity" status. Adam Savage of Mythbusters is a notable example of someone who is often referred to as "Metafilter's Own," simply because he's also a participating member here.

FWIW, I personally disagreed with hoder pretty sharply on a few issues.

From where I stand, anything that is in the interest of the Iranian people is a threat to Iran's enemies or US interests.

Someone else can probably answer you in better, more informed detail, but my impression of the situation is that the Iranian people are increasingly not being properly represented by their oppressive regime. Their writings on social media sites and in books (especially from expats who are no longer being censored) seem to indicate a yearning towards democracy and democratic principles, a less extremist political & religious philosophy and greater equality.

I don't know where they're headed. But I think anything that encourages tolerance and a more secular democracy there is a good thing.
posted by zarq at 6:15 AM on June 25, 2010

posted by chunking express at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2010

Fabulous post. Thank you for putting this together, zarq.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:34 PM on June 28, 2010

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