Iran Sentences Blogger To 19 Years In Jail

Iranian-Canadian Hossein Derakhshan, 35, was a controversial figure among Iran's blogging community. He is nicknamed "the Blogfather" and is credited with launching a blogging revolution in Iran. Steve Inskeep talks to Borzou Daragahi, who covers Iran for the Los Angeles Times.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

An Iranian blogger has been sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison. Hossein Derakhshan is known among Iranians as Blogfather. He started one of the first blogs in Persian, back in the 1990s. He was critical of Iran's government, particularly while living abroad - he has a Canadian passport. Later, he seemed to support the government and returned home to Iran but was arrested.

Borzou Daragahi is covering this story for the Los Angeles Times. He joins us from his base in Beirut. Borzou, welcome back to the program.

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Los Angeles Times): It's my pleasure.

INSKEEP: What is Mr. Derakhshan accused of here?

Mr. DARAGAHI: According to a website called Mashriq News, which is said to be close to the security forces in Iran, he's been charged specifically with cooperation with hostile governments, propagation against the Islamic state -and that's a very popular charge in Iran, propagating against the system, making propaganda in favor of counterrevolutionary groups, defiling sacred matters and launching and managing, quote, "obscene websites."

INSKEEP: You listed the charges there, but is there any indication of what specific acts he would've committed that would have been defined that way?

Mr. DARAGAHI: You know, it's really hard to tell. There's no transparency in this kind of situation. There's no access, really, to court records. My guess is, specifically, it was having to do with this blog and the criticisms he wrote on his blog in the earlier years when he was in Iran and later when he was abroad.

But also a very controversial move that he made - I believe it was around 2006 - when he went to Israel and made a series of outrageous and very funny and poignant, actually, television appearances. It seemed like very smart kind of performance art. But maybe the Iranian authorities didn't see it that way.

INSKEEP: It's strange though, to think that later on he seemed to turn against the Iranian opposition, seemed to be speaking almost for the government, and then returned to Iran and only then he was arrested.

Mr. DARAGAHI: Yeah, Steve. This is a really convoluted tale. At some point, as you point out, he shifted gears in terms of his political stance and he started defending President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On his blog, he began denouncing certain people in the style of the hard-line Iranian newspaper, sort of, you know, accusing various people of having worked for this and that think-tank, which is linked to this and that security agency and so on, and really condemning a rather prominent and maybe even not so prominent people in the opposition. And it made a lot of people really suspicious as to why he would suddenly start condemning people in this particular style.

INSKEEP: Raised questions about whether someone had gotten to him, about whether he'd really had a change of heart, about whether he was troubled in some way.

Mr. DARAGAHI: According to many people that I've spoken to who knew him, there was something else at work here. Perhaps the story of a sad young man who maybe, far from home, had grown a little bit desperate. This particular case, if anything, also shows the fallacy that through blogging and the Internet and Twitter and so on, you can go up against a powerful state that has so many tools at its disposal.

And it suggests that perhaps this idea that, you know, using this new media to affect political change is kind of a fallacy, and that, you know, you really need a real political organization and not just a bunch of hallucinate activists on the web.

INSKEEP: Because the government can come and get you in the end?

Mr. DARAGAHI: The government can come and get you, can manipulate you, can keep tabs on you.

INSKEEP: Borzou Daragahi is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Borzou, always a pleasure to speak with you.

Mr. DARAGAHI: Always a pleasure.

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