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.

GoDaddy renewed Hoder.com for one year “as a courtesy”

Yesterday, on MetaFilter, readers figured out that Hoder.com was about to expire at the end of this month and they wanted to make sure that it stayed in Hossein Derakhshan’s name. Some had suggested that they wouldn’t allow the domain to be renewed until he did it himself — and he obviously can’t as he’s in prison. However, later in the day, the domain’s whois records showed that someone had renewed it for a year, but it was unclear how or why.

To figure out what was up, I spoke with GoDaddy’s general counsel, Christine Jones.

She told me that given the extenuating circumstances of this situation, they decided to renew the domain for a year. This is not a usual policy for the company.

“So, we had some activity around this name, either people that follow the blog, or people who just were friends of his or acquaintances who noticed that the domain was going to expire,” she said. “Some of those people contacted us and because it didn’t seem like he was going to give over permission to somebody to renew his name before the expiration, we went ahead and renewed it as a courtesy.”

She added that if this happens again in a year and he doesn’t renew it or give anyone else access, the domain will expire. In this case, she advises that Derakhshan give his username and password to a trusted friend or family member so that they can access the account and renew it for him. Alternatively, they’ll need the last six digits of the credit card that was used.

She also noted that it’s not possible for friends or other people to donate money to to renew it on his behalf.

“It seems sort of draconian as we’re talking about this one domain that you’re using as an example, but if you take the bigger picture, it might help you understand why we have to be very black and white about this,” she said. “We do have situations where people say: ‘Hey let me send you money so that we can renew hoder.com’ and the gentleman who is the registrant of hoder.com doesn’t want it to be renewed. And that happens from time to time.”

Kudos to GoDaddy for helping out Derakhshan, even in a small way.

Hossein Derakhshan’s brother, Hamed, speaks out

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the arrest of Hossein “Hoder” Derakhshan.

I’ve been covering this issue on my blog and also for three media outlets: PRI’s The World, in a piece that aired on Wednesday, TVO’s Search Engine (in an episode airing tomorrow), and for PBS’ MediaShift in a piece that will be airing later this week.

The CBC also came out with a piece late Thursday night that I’ve just now seen.

I have also been in regular contact with Hossein Derakhshan’s brother, Hamed Derakhshan, who just told me the following via Skype chat:

– His parents recently had a meeting with the new district attorney, who allowed them to have dinner in Evin Prison with their son, Hossein Derakhshan, on Thursday, October 29, 2009.

– This confirms that Hossein is being held in Evin Prison, however the family does not know the next time they will be allowed to see him.

– At the dinner, Hossein confirmed the recent Human Rights Activists in Iran reports that claim he had been forced to do squats in cold showers and has been beaten repeatedly.

– Hossein is now sorry that he asked for a media blackout.

“Yes, he told my family that he regrets telling us not to cover his story if he was arrested,” Hamed Derakhshan wrote. “He said he should have asked us to create a media campaign after two months if he was still arrested.”

– Hamed believes that his and his father’s speaking out has had a direct impact on the Iranian government’s behavior.

I will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Hossein Derakhshan was really arrested

Sanam Dolatshahi, an Iranian blogger now living in Florida, says that the arrest of Hossein Derakhshan has been confirmed by his family in Tehran. The arrest has also been confirmed by a friend of the family’s, as quoted in today’sThe Globe & Mail. To be clear, I myself, have not spoken with anyone in Hoder’s family yet.

Sanam writes:

My friend Nazli finally got the OK from Hossein Derakhshan’s sister, Azadeh Derakhshan, to publicly announce that Hossein Derakhshan, one of the first Iranian bloggers, was arrested on the afternoon of November 1, in Tehran.

I am quoting this news from Nazli Kamvari, a friend of Hossein Derakhshan and an Iranian blogger living in Toronto, who has been directly in touch with Hossein’s sister and just wrote about this news in her Persian blog.

My understanding is that Hossein’s family has been under pressure from the authorities not to talk about Hossein’s arrest and not to get a lawyer for him. So, it is understandable that they are not talking to the media. But we at least can assure both the Persian and global blogosphere, who were previously in doubts about Hossein’s arrest, that he’s really arrested.

Hossein has gone through various changes in his politics and he has rubbed many activists the wrong way, including myself. (I personally don’t approve his politics and we have had couple of fierce arguments and fights in the past few months.) However, we should not have double standards when we deal with human rights. Any human being should be entitled to freedom of expression and should have access to an attorney while in jail. I hope human rights advocates start campaigning for Hossein Derakhshan.

Update: I personally talked to his sister, too. She is very worried about Hossein. We should be careful with the way we spread the news not to have a negative effect. Absolutley no neocon propaganda shit.

Was Hossein Derakhshan really arrested in Tehran?

Iranian-Canadian blogger HosseinHoderDerakhshan may or may not have been arrested recently in Tehran.

One Iranian site, Jahan News, is reporting that he has been — citing “reliable sources” — and up until now, that’s all we have.

And yet, UPI, the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, The Guardian and others are all treating this as fact, using one possibly dubious Iranian newspaper as the sole source. It’s even made the Iranian equivalent of Digg, Balatarin (“Highest”). For the record, NPR is taking a more skeptical view, and reports: “A spokesman for the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, however, told NPR that he had no information about the incident.”

So, a little background: Hoder is largely credited as being one of the early pioneers for Persian-language blogging. He wrote a lot about blogging and tech for Iranian newspapers and helped spawn what’s become one of the largest blogging communities relative to its linguistic size.

However, over the last couple of years, he’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, to say the least. He’s taken some pretty strong political stances, and has apparently made attacks against many people who perhaps at one time considered him as a friend, or at least an icon.

Since I woke up this morning, I’ve been trading emails with various people in the US and Iran to try and sort this all out. Some believe that it’s real — he hasn’t posted on his English blog since October 6 2008, nor his Persian blog since October 19 2008. Others wonder about the legitimacy of the whole affair, thinking that it might be staged, given that he wrote on October 15 2008:

[Translation by Hamid Tehrani]:

If something happen to me I do not want any news, declaration . . . to be published in English, in international scene, in Persian media in USA, Netherlands . . . and so on . . .

Still, no one I’ve talked to has been able to find anything that isn’t sourced from Jahan News. One source simply isn’t enough to go on.

Hossein’s libel case

Hossein asked me to blog about his libel case. I don’t have much to say about it, other than what Ethan Zuckerman has already said:

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.