Iran’s Blogfather Walks Free After Six Years in Jail

Hossein Darakhshan said nice things about Israel and criticized Tehran’s rulers, so he was sent to the notorious Evin prison where he was almost certainly tortured.

11.21.14 6:00 PM ET

Hossein Darakhshan, born in Tehran on January 7, 1975, has dual Canadian-Iranian nationality. He also has a major in sociology from Beheshti University in Tehran and an MA in media studies from the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His father, Hassan, is a carpet merchant with close relations to senior members of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party.

Despite the Islamic Republic banning its citizens from travelling to Israel, Darakhshan used his Canadian passport to travel there twice in 2007. He wrote about both these trips on his highly popular blog.

In January 2007, he took part in an annual conference at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University, where he gave a workshop on blogging. During this, he admitted travelling to Israel to challenge the Islamic Republic’s view that the country was “satanic.” He said that following on from one of former Iranian President Khatami’s ideas, he wanted to establish dialogue with the Israelis to stop war and promote peace.

However, shortly after returning from Israel he began changing his political beliefs vis-a-vis the policies of the Islamic Republic and began criticizing the opposition. He also supported the arrests of figures, including Iranian-Canadian analyst and writer Ramin Jahanbegloo and several other political and social activists.

Press TV, the English-language network of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), interviewed him twice, during which he pledged his support for the policies of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was critical of Israel. He then published a blog that was entitled, “I regret my former views on Israel and Palestine” and in another declared “the Islamic Republic must not go back at all on its position of considering Israel an illegitimate country, which is built on the bodies and usurped homes of millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians.”

Following this supposed U-turn on his political beliefs, Darakhshan went back to Iran in October 2008. As he predicted it would, his passport was confiscated when he arrived. He posted on his blog: “I arrived in Tehran the night before last, and as myself and many others had predicted, my passport was confiscated in a routine and lawful manner. This week I have to go and get it back, which of course means a Q&A will be waiting for me.”

During this time, Darakhshan also expressed his belief that it was time that Iranians living abroad return home to rebuild their country because “I know deep down you don’t want to believe it but Ahmadinejad has taken Khatami’s slogan of ‘Iran for all Iranians’ seriously and is busy implementing it. Come here and give it a try like I did.”

However, just a few days later, security forces arrested him at his father’s house and he spent the next eight months in solitary confinement. There were reports that he was beaten and tortured into confessing he had been working for the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli secret service. It is also alleged his family was not allowed to see him while he was in prison or to attend the court hearings.

On October 21, 2009 Darakhshan’s father wrote to the judiciary chief. “We have no news on his legal situation,” he wrote. “No court hearing has been set and we don’t know which security agency or organization is holding him.”

Following a shortage in the number of solitary cells, Darakhshan was moved from solitary confinement to a shared cell in Ward 2A, an area controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

His case was sent to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Salavati. At first, the judge demanded the maximum sentence, the death penalty, but given it had been almost two years since his arrest on September 28, 2010, he was sentenced to 19 and a half years in prison. The charges against him included "insulting religious leaders," "cooperating with hostile states," and "propaganda against the regime." He was also banned from political and social activities for an additional five years.

Darakhshan’s family were shocked by the severity of the sentence, especially given his change in political beliefs in the year preceding his arrest. However, in October 2009, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran quoted the judge overseeing his case as saying that “the change in his ways was not genuine but a ruse to infiltrate the religious and revolutionary community. It was done gradually and step by step to prevent detection.”

Darakshan was released from prison on November 20, 2014.