Canadian government response to Derakhshan case

Hello Cyrus,

Here is the comment I can provide at this time:

Since learning of Hossein Derakhshan’s arrest in November 2008, DFAIT officials have been in contact with Iranian authorities, including by diplomatic note and through high level meetings, to seek consular

Iran does not legally recognize dual nationality. As such, Canadian- Iranians are considered to be Iranian under local law. The consular assistance that may be provided by Canadian consular officials to Canadian-Iranian nationals is very limited. This limitation is noted in DFAIT’s travel report for Iran (, under “Dual Nationality”.

Despite the Iranian government’s position, we consider Mr. Derakhshan to be a Canadian citizen. We will continue to press the Iranian authorities for access, as we have in similar cases involving dual nationals in other jurisdictions. Canada continues to urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice.

Due to the Privacy Act, no further information can be released at this time.


Lisa Monette
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade/
Ministère des affaires étrangères et du commerce international

Hossein Derakhshan awaiting sentencing

A member of Hossein “Hoder” Derakhshan’s family has confirmed to me that he is awaiting a sentence in his trial in Tehran, and that the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.

After initially seeing a report on, which I passed along to this family member, that family member dismissed it as “rumor.” However, other messages from a second family member seemed to conclude that this sad news was correct. I forwarded that message to my contact, who said that after getting in touch with his family, confirmed that the sentencing was, in fact, true.

“I did [speak with my family] and it’s confirmed,” the contact writes. “They had told me they want to give him 15 years and we are waiting for the sentence. I had thought this was what the prosecuter has requested. But apparently this is not the case. So, yes, the prosecuter has asked for the death penalty but we’re still waiting for the sentence.”

and adds:

“What I think would be very effective at this point would be to get as many people as possible to write to Larry King and ask him to ask Ahmadinejad about Hossein. It’s a perfect way to put him under pressure and make him react.”

To clarify, President Ahmadinejad will be appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live tonight (Wednesday).

I had not received any new information about the case since last hearing of the beginning of his trial in Tehran.

Not surprisingly, Twitter is abuzz with the news.

As a reminder, Derakhshan was arrested November 1, 2008 in Tehran and according to Radio Zamaneh, was accused of “cooperation with enemy states, propaganda against the Islamic regime, promoting anti-Revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, launching and managing vulgar and obscene sites.” (I’m not sure what the final, formal charges are, if that even matters at this stage.)

I’m contacting Canadian authorities in Ottawa and Tehran and will post whatever I can.

In the past, Canadian officials have publicly said very little, other than that essentially their hands are tied as Iran doesn’t recognize dual citizenship and that Derakhshan has been denied consular access.

Morozov, Haystack & Me

How Haystack Works

In recent days there has been a great bruhaha over Haystack, the anti-censorship software aimed to help Iranians inside of Iran.

On September 2, 2010, Evgeny Morozov, a journalist colleague of mine, and online columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, wrote a thought-provoking piece about Haystack. In it, he called into question how Haystack works and argued that in fact, Haystack may be dangerous to Iranians, given that no one knows precisely how Haystack works except its two creators Austin Heap and Dan Colascione. 

I’m afraid that what this has now turned into is people feeling personally attacked rather than discussing the merits of Haystack.

In gChats in recent days, I told Heap that Morozov raises a lot of good points concerning Haystack and indeed, Heap has responded to the charges on his blog. In fact, the two have since been in direct contact by email.

But Morozov isn’t the first to bring up these points. In fact, his questions are ones that have been raised months earlier privately by other smart tech folks that I know and respect, like Danny O’Brien (Center to Project Journalists, former EFF, Jacob Appelbaum (Tor) and Ethan Zuckerman (Berkman Center, Harvard ; Global Voices).

Essentially their question to Heap has been: why should people trust Haystack, when you won’t open up how it works? 

Heap has responded by essentially saying: no one should trust Haystack any more than you trust Psiphon, Freegate, Tor, or any other web anonymizer. 

In short, this is a question that has plagued Haystack since its inception. 

And frankly, this is a larger problem with reporters like me reporting on highly technical issues that we fundamentally don’t understand. I am not a cryptographer, nor a network engineer. That being said, I was present at one of the earliest demonstrations of Haystack held in San Francisco in the summer of 2009. Other programmers in the room, many of whom work for major Silicon Valley corporations, expressed no concern that this was an unbelievable or ridiculous project.

Now, when I’ve spoken with Heap, and reported on Haystack, I’m essentially taking Heap’s word that Haystack does what he says it does. I have no means of proving that it doesn’t, nor that it does. Even when Heap has demonstrated the software for me, I have no real means of confirming his claims.

The best I can do, as a journalist, is to try to temper my interest and enthusiasm for a project like Haystack with other voices. I’ve reported on the project a few times for PRI’s The World, for my forthcoming book, “The Internet of Elsewhere,” and most recently for Popular Science magazine. 

In two pieces for The World, I countered Heap’s claims with skepticism raised by Ali Reza Eshraghi, an Iranian journalist living in Washington DC, who said in my July 9 2009 report:

“I am not 100 percent sure that by using all these technologies, all of these softwares, that means that ok, I can be safe and secure in Internet. But yes, it will definitely be helpful for me, but also they are also trying to find out, you know, again new softwares, new technology, how to monitor again the browsers?”

More recently on April 13, 2010, I included comments from Prof. Nader Entessar of the University of South Alabama who said this about Haystack

“We shouldn’t look at it in terms of a major tool, even a very effective tool to pressure Iran to change its policies, let’s say in the nuclear arena or other areas.”

Now, in addition, I need to come clean about a personal connection that I’ve had to Haystack since its inception. 

In getting involved in this discussion and presumably having read a lot of what has been written about Haystack in the press so far, Morozov came across a piece that I penned for Popular Science magazine earlier this year. 

In a private email, Morozov wrote to me: “I feel that I need to ask you the following: what’s your relationship – if any – to Babak Siavoshy? If there is relationship, why wasn’t it pointed anywhere in the piece as a potential conflict of interest?”

Morozov is completely correct. I should have come forward a lot sooner regarding my personal connection to Haystack and sincerely apologize for not doing so earlier and in a more transparent way. 

Babak Siavoshy, Haystack’s managing director, is my first cousin and in fact I introduced him and Austin Heap back in the summer of 2009. I also introduced Heap to my first-cousin-once-removed, Karim Sadjadpour, who is a well-known Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Sadjadpour is also a member of CRC’s Board of Advisors. 

I definitely should have made this connection more public and probably even refrained from reporting directly on Haystack without disclosing this connection, or perhaps even refrained reporting on Haystack at all.

I have no excuse for not disclosing this potential conflict of interest earlier other than to say that I somehow justified it to myself that a member of my extended family, who was on the board of this organization that I was reporting about, whom I didn’t ever interview, was far enough away that it was ok. 

But upon further reflection, Morozov is completely right, I should have made this more clear to my listeners, readers, and editors for not coming forward sooner. I promise that such an oversight and mistake will never happen again. This potential conflict of interest, or even appearance of a conflict of interest, is something that violates journalistic ethics that I hold dear.

All of this said, I would like to close by making two final points:

1) Heap’s blog post, in which he criticized Morozov for not having spoken with him directly, was also spot on. I think that much of Morozov’s questions and concerns about Haystack could have been addressed directly to Heap rather than just being a blanket shot across the bow of Haystack. If I am at fault for not disclosing my connection to Siavoshy, Sadjadpour and Haystack, then Morozov is also at fault for not contacting directly Heap initially to address his questions about the project.

2) I have great respect both for Morozov and Heap, and consider them both as peers and also as friends. I’ve met socially with both of them multiple times on separate occasions and they are both very intelligent and nice guys.

While I am very interested in Haystack and its goals, I also think that Morozov has provided thoughtful skepticism that has influenced my own thinking about the role of technology and the Internet in promoting democracy around the world. When I first began work on my book, “The Internet of Elsewhere,” I initially had thought that I would write something about the “liberating effects of a wired world.” But both Zuckerman and Morozov have provided me with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I look forward to reading Morozov’s forthcoming book about the role of the Internet and democracy, which is due to come out later this year.

As I wrote on my blog back in May

As much as I love the Internet, it is no more capable of causing revolution than the telegraph was, as Tom Standage showed in his great book, The Victorian Internet.

The fact of the matter is that for all the talk of ‘Twitter Revolution’ in Iran — the status quo has been preserved. Khamenei is still doing his thing and Ahmedinejad is still doing his. There’s no evidence to suggest that the Islamic Republic is in danger of collapse anytime soon.

I generally agree with Evgeny, although I may not be as cynical as he is. The bottom line though, is that I feel like Fox Mulder on the X-Files: I want to believe that the Internet helps to build democracies, but as of now, I simply cannot.

My first two episodes of Spectrum


So July 20 was my first episode hosting Spectrum, and July 27 was my first one hosting all by myself!

You can listen here:

July 20:


July 27:


Feel free to subscribe to the podcast here (and leave me a review on iTunes!), or listen to archived shows on the show’s page here.

It’s been a blast to plan and produce these shows! It’s hard to believe that after years of working at home and having a commute of about twenty seconds across the house, now I have a commute by bike of about 20 minutes along the Rhine river. I park my bike and go up to my office, where I share it with another news reporter. But my name is next to the door, I have a whiteboard and everything. We’ve got regular meetings, news conferences, and deadlines to meet. Heck, I’ve even got business cards coming soon.

Production day is Monday, where I have three hours of studio time to track my own voice, listen to the pieces with our audio engineers and listen back to the whole show to make sure everything is ok. Last time, I only used about half that time. The show goes out on Tuesday at 17h30 GMT, and the rest of the time I have to spend updating the science and technology news page (I average publishing about two stories per day), and of course, planning for the next week’s show.

Gotta feed the beast, as they say.

East Bay Express 2010: Best Bike Tour

Wow! I can’t believe it! The February 2010 Tour de Taco won the East Bay Express’ Best of the Bay 2010 award for: Best Bike Tour. (That said, I’m not sure how many bike tours there are in the East Bay, but heck, I’ll take it!)

As the EBE writes:

Sometimes when you hop on a bike, you just want to ride — around the block, through the neighborhood, until you get tired and find yourself lost and in search of a Slurpee. At others, you need a goal, a destination, a mission. And what’s a more worthy mission than obtaining tacos? According to organizers of the Oaklandish Tour de Taco, not much. Billed as a “gastronomical quest on wheels through the Fruitvale district of Oakland,” the annual ride hosted by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Cyrus Farivar of leads participants along a bike-friendly course from one taco truck to the next. This year’s ride, held in February, stopped at four taco trucks along a 2.5-mile loop and then visited an ice cream parlor a couple blocks down the street for dessert. Those looking to tack another 3.5 miles onto the ride then convened at a bar in Old Oakland for refreshments. The date for next year’s ride has yet to be set, but organizers welcome taco truck veterans and “mobile food noobs” alike, as well as riders of all skill levels. The ride’s free, but don’t forget a helmet, $15 or so for food, and an empty stomach.

As it turns out, although I’m currently in Germany, I plan on being back in Oakland next February for about two weeks, and would love to organize another one. Or heck, all you 510ers, why aren’t you organizing your own, informal ride? If you do, send me pix, por favor!

[Cross-posted at]

Hossein “Hoder” Derakhshan’s trial begins in Tehran

After many months of nearly no information about the status of Hossein Derakhshan, various Iranian websites and his family are reporting that his trial began on Wednesday in Tehran.

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.”

I’ve contacted Canadian authorities to see what they have to say about this. Again, as a reminder, Derakhshan is a dual citizen of Iran and Canada.

More soon as this story develops.

New theme! New photos!

Since earlier this year I’ve wanted to change the theme of this blog.

I felt that it was time for a change — after all I’ve had this blog on WordPress for around five years, and mucked around with Moveable Type before that. Way back in the day I started blogging on LiveJournal — heck, I didn’t even hear the word blog for the first time until Fall 2000.

And so now, with major help from Chirag Desai I managed to get this new theme up and running and customized exactly as I want it. He helped me to understand how the theme works, so I can make changes to it myself, as well as provided timely answers to my questions by email and Skype chat. I highly recommend his services!

With Chirag’s help, I selected the Arras Theme, a very easy-to-use theme that has a nice picture rotation system up top and plays nice with Twitter and Facebook as well, adding those handy-dandy buttons up in the top right. Plus, this allows me to move the list of my radio and print pieces to WordPress pages, rather than having to edit them manually in HTML each time I want to add something.

Also, I’ve added two new photos in the upper right rotation, including the first sketch as drawn by my brother Alex and a portrait of me taken by none other than David Sasaki.

In other news, I start my new job on July 1!

Photo credit (shot from the top of the Bonn Stadthaus, very near our apartment): Matthias Zepper

iPhone 4 in Germany: Complexity Abounds

So I get that people want the iPhone. I get that it’s a really sexy, really popular handset. I’m not convinced that I’ll buy one just yet, but I signed up for T-Mobile’s email updates about it, and just yesterday got this:

But seriously T-Mobile (Germany’s exclusive iPhone provider), do you really need SEVEN different plans?

In fact, there’s so many, that they need two pages to fit them all. Here’s the first four:

I won’t go over all of them, but here’s the bottom line:

There’s an inverse relationship between what you pay for the phone and what you pay in a monthly contract.

The cheapest option: €300 for the phone and €25/month, €0,29/min to all German mobiles and landlines, 200MB of data/month.

The most spendy option: €1 for the phone and €120/month, unlimited calls and data.

While I know that AT&T isn’t exactly the most beloved provider, I find it almost offensive that you’d pay €25 or even the next two levels €45 or €60, where you have to pay for minutes/texts on top of the service that you already pay per month. Not to mention that a text message to other providers is €0,19 — that’s more than double what I pay now on

Now yes you can buy the phone unlocked in Germany and use it with any of Germany’s myriad of prepaid mobile providers. Heck, you can even take your existing SIM card, trim it and put it into your new iPhone 4 and/or iPad.

While I do want a new iPhone (I’m still rocking the original 4GB first-gen), I can’t really justify signing a two-year contract at absurdly high prices just to get a phone.

Cyrus on: PRI’s The World (June 11, 2010)

Dear Friends,

My piece on the one-year anniversary of last year’s controversial election in Iran is airing today. In the piece, we hear from two young Iranians who talk about their frustration with what’s happened since June 12, 2009, and from Mohammed Sadeghi, the Iranian-German behind Mousavi’s Facebook page and from Golnaz Esfandiari, the Iranian-American reporter with Radio Free Europe in Prague.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

NYC – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

You can also likely find it on your local public radio station, and The World’s site later in the day and also on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my friend and colleague, Clark Boyd from The World’s tech desk at his new home in Brussels, Belgium.

Lemme know if you hear it!