Canadian FM Lawrence Cannon on Hossein Derakhshan’s jail sentence

I emailed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa and received this statement back from Melissa Lantsman, on behalf of Canada’s Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon.

“We are deeply concerned about the news of this severe sentence. Our officials continue to seek confirmation of these reports from Tehran.

If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. Canada believes that no one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one’s inherent right to freedom of expression.

His situation is complicated by his dual nationality which is not recognized by the Iranian authorities. Iran must release him and other dual-nationals who have been unjustly detained.

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

We will continue to press the Iranian authorities on Mr. Derakhshan’s behalf and urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice”.

Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Canada

Hossein Derakhshan sentenced to 19.5 years in prison

A conservative Persian news website, Mashregh News, is reporting that Iranian-Canadian blogging pioneer Hossein Derakhshan has been found guilty of “conspiring with hostile governments, disseminating anti-Islamic propaganda, disseminating anti-revolutionary propaganda, blasphemy, annd operating and managing obscene pornography websites.”

He is ordered to serve 19.5 years in prison, is banned for five years from joining any Iranian political party and is required to pay €30,750, $2,900 and 200 British pounds. The article also states that the sentence can be appealed.

Upon seeing this link, I sent it over to my Derakhshan family contact, who confirmed this information.

More info coming soon as this story develops. I will contact the Canadian authorities to see if they have any further information.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë speaks out for Hossein Derakhshan

The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, released a statement (in French) today in support of Hossein Derakhshan. I have translated it below to the best of my ability.

—BEGIN ENGLISH TRANSLATION—

I have learned with dismay and the utmost concern that the death penalty was requested, Wednesday, September 22, by the prosecutor of Tehran, at the trial of the young blogger, Hossein Derakhshan.

He is a high cultural figure and is a figure for freedom of expression in an also-threatened Iran. Hossein Derakhshan’s blog, written in both Persian and English, is one of the world’s most visited sites that express the voice of a free Iran.

Hossein Derakhshan is a man of peace, which was especially shown during his two trips to Israel, and because of his texts “contributing to a rapprochement between Tel-Aviv and Tehran,” — this is why today he is in danger.

He is also a man of great culture, openness and dialogue. And he is a friend of France and Paris. As someone fascinated by the philosophical works of Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, he is linked to our city and its new generation of entrepeneurs and creators.

In the name of Paris, I solemnly call upon the judicial authorities of Tehran to not condemn Hossein Derakhshan to death. And I invite the mobilization of all of our energies to save this honorable, courageous and dignified life.

—BEGIN PERSIAN TRANSLATION—

نامه شهردار پاریس، برتران دولانوه، در حمایت از آزادی حسین درخشان

من با بهت وحیرت و نگرانی فراوان دریافتم که در تاریخ چهارشنبه ۲۲ سپتامبر از سوی دادستان تهران مجازات اعدام برای وبلاگ نویس جوان، حسین درخشان درخواست شده است

با این عمل چهرهٔ والای فرهنگ و آزادی بیان در ایران است که تهدید شده است. وبلاگ حسین درخشان، نوشته شده به زبان فارسی و انگلیسی، یکی ازپرخواننده ترین سایت های جهان است که به بیان نوای ایران آزاد می پردازد حسین درخشان انسانی طالب صلح است. او اکنون به خصوص به خاطر دو سفرش به اسراییل و نوشته هایش “برای کمک به ایجاد روابط حسنه میان تهران و تل آویو”، دربند میباشد

او همچنین ، انسانی با فرهنگ، دارای اندیشه ای باز و طالب گفتگوست. از دوستان فرانسه و پاریس محسوب میشود، شیفتهُ کارهای فلاسفه ای چون فوکو، دریدا و دلوز، و با شهر ما و نسل جدید کارآفرینان و طراحانش بسیار مأنوس میباشد

من از طرف شهر پاریس از مقامات قضایی تهران درخواست دارم که از حسین درخشان رفع اتهام کنند و از همه دعوت میکنم که برای نجات این زندگی پر افتخار، شجاع و پرعزت به تلاش در آیند

Translation/Copyright: Forgani.com

Hossein Derakhshan’s mother speaks

Editor’s Note: This is a English translation of an interview originally done in Persian by Kamtarin, published on September 21, 2010. I did not translate this interview myself, nor have I been in direct contact with Kamtarin nor Ozra Kiarashpour, Hossein’s mother, but my Derakhshan family source did confirm the authenticity of this interview and the accuracy of the translation.

—BEGIN TRANSLATION—

Salman, a writer with the website Kamtarin, conducted an interview with Ozra Kiarashpour, the mother of Hossein Derakhshan about her son’s situation:

Hello Ms. Derakhshan, thank you for agreeing to the interview with us.

Hello, I really don’t know what will help Hossein and what will harm him, and the only thing I can do is to pray for him. These days I am really bewildered and so is Hossein’s poor dad.

How is Hossein doing psychologically these days?

He is extremely overwhelmed and listless. He seems really depressed. He is really tired of being in limbo, being in jail, and being alone for two years. He says he spends most of the day sleeping.

He recently requested to at least be transferred to the general ward but instead they agreed to move him to a different and better room, and potted a rose plant for him.

Are you able to visit Hossein?

For over a year we’ve had routine visitation with him once a week, but during the first eight months of his detention we had no visitation and didn’t know where he was.

How do the prison authorities behave during your visitation?

It depends on who is there on any particular day but the majority of time they are respectful.

There are still some who doubt that Hossein is in Prison and there were even some who were saying that Hossein is staying at a villa in Zafaraniya [a wealthy area of Tehran] where he is helping the government. Don’t you think the reason for these rumors is linked to the fact that you haven’t really dealt with the media?

I pray that those people never have to endure the pain that we are going through. During the early months of Hossein’s detention we were very confused, didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t know what we should do. On the one hand, Hossein had requested that we not speak to foreign media. And the domestic media wasn’t interested in us. Even with all of this, Hossein’s father and I wrote a letter to the Head of the Judiciary that was published in a number of places.

And once the air cleared a bit, my daughter set up a blog to provide information about Hossein’s situation. These two years have been very difficult for us. Hossein’s father had several cardiac episodes. At the time when they told Hossein that his father had had a heart attack, he wasn’t allowed to use the phone. My child cried so much and blamed himself so much, which was even more painful for Hossein’s father and I. But we didn’t even tell Hossein that his father was upset because half of what upset Hossein in prison has to do with us.

You wrote a post for the blog that you said was called “Justice for Hossein Derakhshan,” are you familiar with blogging and with computers?

Since my children are often traveling abroad, I have to use the Internet as a means of communication. Could it be possible that I know nothing about blogging? The truth is that Hossein used to talk our heads off about blogging. All that we are suffering unfortunately started with Hossein’s blogging.

Had Hossein come to Iran by invitation of the government?

Hossein had had some conversations with Press TV about working in their Tehran office. Even during the days before his arrest, he would sometimes go to their office since we didn’t have high speed internet at home. Before his return to Iran, the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad promised Hossein that his trip would be without problem. He had cleared his trip with this Council which is governmental and which is in contact with the Intelligence service. That’s why even though Hossein knew that they would call him to be questioned, he did not expect to be arrested like this and hadn’t told us what to do in case he was arrested.

A representative from the Council told us that they pursued his case on behalf of the Council but that unfortunately they couldn’t do anything further. Why are there such splits in the country’s security apparatus?

Is Hossein accused of espionage?

Absolutely not, I don’t know how these people who constantly accuse Hossein of these things can live with their own conscience. If Hossein is a spy and had a security project, then why hasn’t the documentation for this turned up anywhere? And why wasn’t espionage part of Hossein’s charges?

What do you think the Judge’s ruling will be?

We can’t do anything about the judge’s ruling except to pray since other than God no one knows what the future will bring. The prosecutor has asked for the severest sentence possible to punish Hossein and to make an example of him. As Hossein’s mother, and not as someone whose family has sacrificed much for the sake of the Revolution, I want to ask why are they making an example of Hossein rather than making a role model of him? He is someone who repented and returned to serve his country and is ready to criticize his past thoughts and actions. Are you making an example to prove to people that repenting is useless? To show that supporting the ruling system will have this outcome? All these years, this family has been a steadfast supporter of this ruling system, and Hossein is one of us. It is not fair that you should punish him so severely for honestly conveying his life experiences over these years.

If Hossein is freed, will he leave Iran?

Hossein had grown really tired of living abroad and even now to make us feel better he says, I may have been in prison these past two years in Iran but before that I was in prison abroad.

Thank you for the interview, we hope that Hossein’s situation is resolved soon.

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
access.

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 (www.voyage.gc.ca), 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.

Thanks!
Lisa

Lisa Monette
Spokesperson/Porte-parole
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 Kamtarin.com, 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

spectrum.screen

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:

[audio:http://cyrusfarivar.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/01-Spectrum_-Viennas-UN-AIDS-conference-German-data-protection-and-the-science-of-forgery-detection-in-London.mp3]

July 27:

[audio:http://cyrusfarivar.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/01-Spectrum_-A-new-gesture-based-user-interface-German-e-books-and-an-Italian-autonomous-vehicle-treks-to-China1.mp3]

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 CaliforniaTacoTrucks.com 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 CaliforniaTacoTrucks.com]