Iranian 'Blogfather' Hossein Derakhshan is arrested on charge of spying for Israel

http://www.hoder.com/weblog, the blog site of Hossein Derakhshan, aka the Blogfather

The blog of Hossein Derakhshan, aka the Blogfather, who has been arrested

A prominent Iranian blogger, nicknamed the Blogfather for spawning Iran’s spectacular blogging revolution, has been arrested in Tehran and accused of spying for Israel.

Hossein Derakhshan, who was last based in London after spending several years in Canada, returned to live in his homeland a few weeks ago.

He wrote that he “LOVES living in Tehran again” in his most recent posting nearly a month ago. He was “frustrated by slow internet connection, but generally impressed”.

Travelling on a Canadian passport, he made a highly publicised trip to Israel in 2006 on a mission to show his “20,000 daily Iranian readers what Israel really looks like and how people live there”. He also wanted to “humanise” Iranians for Israelis.

Mr Derakhshan was acutely aware that his efforts to foster understanding between the two countries that are bitter enemies could jeopardise any return to Iran.

“This might mean that I won’t be able to go back to Iran for a long time, since Iran doesn’t recognise Israel, has no diplomatic relations with it, and apparently considers travelling there illegal,” he wrote. “Too bad, but I don’t care. Fortunately, I am a citizen of Canada and I have the right to visit any country I like.”

Commentators in Israel, however, noted Mr Derakhshan recently had become “vehemently anti-Israel in his blog”.

The 33-year-old techno-wizard has had a controversial and often turbulent career. Bitterly disillusioned with the Iranian reformist leaders that he once championed, he recently became a grudging admirer of Iran’s hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a September entry on his English-language blog he scoffed at The New York Sun for calling for President Ahmadinejad to be kidnapped to scare him off visiting the city for the UN General Assembly. “They don’t know how big this man’s balls are,” he wrote.

Mr Derakhshan has defended Iran’s right to nuclear weapons for defensive purposes, and announced that he would return to defend his homeland if America ever attacked. “I can’t let myself to sit down for a moment and watch make a Baghdad out of Tehran,” he wrote.

He has also criticised international human rights groups whose reports of violations in Iran he argued had served American interests more than those of Iranians. Some of these views lost him many once-admiring supporters among Iran’s vibrant blogging fraternity.

Yet Iran’s thin-skinned regime apparently remained deeply suspicious. According to Jahan News, a conservative website reputedly close to Tehran’s intelligence community, Mr Derakhshan is under interrogation and during initial questioning “admitted” to spying for Israel — a grave offence if charges are pressed. The report, citing “credible sources”, claimed that Mr Derakhshan’s alleged confession included several “intricate points”.

Mr Derakshahn moved to Canada in 2000 with his Iranian-Canadian wife from who he has since split, after reformist newspapers for which he wrote in Tehran were closed by hardline opponents of the moderate former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami.

From Toronto in 2001 he began blogging in Farsi and English and devised a simple but groundbreaking way to show Persian letters and characters on the Internet — a protocol that enabled Iran to become one of the world’s most prolific blogging nations.

Until his recent move home, Mr Derakhshan had returned only once to Iran since emigrating. Visiting to cover presidential elections in 2005, he was prevented from leaving the country for a week and interrogated by police. They told him that his blog was addressing too many taboo subjects and chided him for helping Iranians to skirt Internet censorship. He was allowed to leave after being forced to sign an apology.

According to some Iranian reports today, Mr Derakhshan told his interrogators that other reformist journalists had been encouraged to leave Iran to write against the regime in return for money. Most of these “misled people” were now working as impecunious barbers, drivers and waiters in exile, he is alleged to have said.

Officials at Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York told an American radio station that they had no information about his reported arrest.

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