Iranian Blogger Arrested? : Soapbox Andy Carvin, NPR Social Media Strategist

Iranian Blogger Arrested?

Andy Carvin, NPR Social Media Strategist

The Jerusalem Post, Jahan News in Iran and other regional news outlets are reporting that Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has been arrested and accused of spying for Israel. Derakhshan, better known online as Hoder, recently returned to Iran after spending much of the last decade living in Canada. Hoder gained prominence after becoming one of the first writers to blog in Farsi. He began blogging in late September 2001, after observing how people were using blogs to share their thoughts about the 9/11 attacks. Two months later, he authored a Farsi-language guide to blogging, which spawned thousands of blogs in Iran and the Iranian expat community.

Since then, Iran's blogosphere has grown significantly, even attracting high-ranking officials such as former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi. According to Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, there are approximately 60,000 active blogs written in Farsi today.

In early 2006, Hoder attracted media coverage for visiting Israel, using his Canadian passport. "As a citizen journalist, I'm going to show my 20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel really looks like and how people live there," he wrote in a widely circulated email prior to his visit. "The Islamic Republic has long portrayed Israel as an evil state, with a consensual political agenda of killing every single man and woman who prays to Allah, including Iranians." He also noted the potential impact his trip could have on him if he ever returned to Iran. "This might mean that I won't be able to go back to Iran for a long time, since Iran doesn't recognize Israel, has no diplomatic relations with it, and apparently considers traveling there illegal," he wrote. "Too bad, but I don't care. Fortunately, I'm a citizen of Canada and I have the right to visit any country I want."

Hoder returned to Iran several weeks ago to live in Tehran. In his most recent post on Twitter, published 25 days ago, he said he was "hanging out in Tehran, frustrated by slow Internet connection, but generally impressed," adding that he "LOVES living in Tehran again" (his emphasis). He has not updated his blogs, Twitter account or Facebook page since the end of October.

According to news reports, Hoder has confessed to charges of spying against Israel. 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. Meanwhile, MideastAnalyst blogger Meir Javedanfar pointed out that Hoder's recent writings had become more anti-Israel and pro-Ahmedinejad. "Prior to his return, he started attacking Ayatollah Rafsanjani in his blog," he added. "It is possible that he fell foul of a power struggle within Iran."

This isn't the first time that Hoder has had run-ins with Iranian authorities. During a 2005 visit, he was prevented from leaving the country for a week and interrogated by police. "They basically said that you can't expect us to allow you to come back to Iran this easily while you're writing about these specific topics, breaking specific taboos," he explained at a UN Internet summit in November 2005. "You know, the supreme leader, the nuclear program, the Israel relationship, [Internet] filtering and some religious concepts. 'You can't continue this and at the same time not expect us to prosecute you. So the next time, either you stop writing about these things, or the next time you're in Iran, you'll be prosecuted.'"