I’m not in a position to argue the veracity of many of the criticisms of Derakhshan by Iranian bloggers – I don’t read Persian, and I don’t have all the facts. And I will happily admit that Derakhshan can be abrasive and difficult, and that I disagree with much of what he’s currently been writing about on his English blog. But that’s not a reason to ignore the legal harrassment he’s facing from Khalaji. One of the major functions of blogs, for better or for worse, is to allow people to express their opinions – positive and negative – about the people and institutions. This function is deeply undermined if it becomes common practice to seek sympathetic venues to launch libel suits when people are offended by how they’re characterized online. (Derakhshan was residing in Europe when the posts in question were posted; his webhost was in the US. It’s possible that the suit is being brought in Canada, where Derakshan previously resided, because it’s a venue more sympathetic to libel claims than the US.)
A few years ago, Derakhshan was widely considered a pioneer for free speech in Iran. While that may not be the best way to describe his current work, it would be a huge loss for free speech online if the suit by Khalaji goes through or if the costs of defending that suit drives Derakhshan offline. Derakhshan may have changed in the past five years, but the issues at stake in this case don’t ever change – freedom of speech applies even to speech we find offensive, and it’s important to defend all speech that’s under threat.
For the record, unlike Zuckerman, I do read Persian, albeit very very slowly. I’m by no means fluent in the language (although I hope that changes one day), so I haven’t been able to follow the play-by-play of this saga.