Iran arrests blogger who visited Israel

Derakhshan had previously defended his visit, saying that it countered "horrific" Israeli propaganda.

iranian blogger Houssein Derakhshan 248 (photo credit: Orly Halperin)
iranian blogger Houssein Derakhshan 248
(photo credit: Orly Halperin)
A well-known Iranian-Canadian blogger who made trips to Israel in the past has been detained in Iran only weeks after he returned to his homeland, according to a family friend. Hossein Derakhshan, who lived in Canada and helped ignite the blog boom in Iran in 2001 by posting simple instructions on how to create sites in Farsi, was arrested on Nov. 1 by six agents who came to his home in Teheran, said Nazli Kamvari, a fellow blogger who lives in Toronto. He has been held at an undisclosed location ever since, she said. Derakhshan has disappeared since that time, but Iranian authorities have not confirmed his arrest. Kamvari said she has been in contact with his family, who gave her permission to announce his detention because the brief calls they were allowed with Derakhshan in custody had stopped about two weeks ago. "Multiple attempts to find out where he is being held and what his charges are have failed," Kamvari told The Associated Press by phone from Toronto. Canada's Foreign Ministry says it has asked Iranian authorities whether Derakhshan, who returned to live in Iran in October, was arrested but has not received an answer, Canada's The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week. Derakhshan traveled to Israel twice, in 2006 and early 2007, saying he wanted to break the taboo on contacts with Israel and show Israelis a different face of Iran. During his trips, he conducted interviews with Israeli media and spoke at a university. Under Iranian law, it is illegal to travel to Israel. Derakhshan, who blogs in both Farsi and English, was a controversial figure among the large community of reformist Iranian bloggers. In the past, he was critical of the Iranian government. But over the past year he expressed strong support for hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praising him for standing up to the West and defending Iran's nuclear program. He also criticized Iranian reformers and Israel and the United States, accusing them of seeking regime change in Iran. Derakhshan's family in Iran, contacted by the AP, refused to confirm his detention or comment further. Kamvari said they do not want to talk to the media out of fear it could hurt Derakhshan. But they decided to have Kamvari speak because Derakhshan had not contacted the family in almost two weeks, she said. Previously, he had been allowed brief phone calls to his family. Iranian authorities have arrested numerous bloggers in recent years as part of a wider attempt to clampdown the Internet and online dissent. The Islamic establishment also filters the Web through its oversight of all Iran's Internet service providers, as well as media, cinema, literature and other arts. Media watchdogs and international human rights groups have criticized Iran for its crackdown on bloggers, and Reports Without Borders has labeled Iran one of 13 "enemies of the Internet." The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged authorities to either release Derakhshan or charge him and provide him a fair trail. "In this, as in many other cases, authorities are exercising raw power over citizens with no explanation, no accountability and no transparency," said the group's spokesman Hadi Ghaemi, who is based in New York. During Derakhshan's arrest on Nov. 1, agents also took some of his personal belongings including his computer, Kamvari said. Before arriving in Iran from Canada on Oct. 19, Derakhshan wrote in his blog that he didn't expect "anything in particular to happen to me." He acknowledged that "traveling to Israel is illegal and I'm ready to be prosecuted for it," but wrote that he could defend himself, arguing that "everything I did and said in Israel was for the benefit of Iran against the horrific and lying propaganda of Israeli and world media" about Iran.