Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan was against the government in Tehran before he was for it, which makes his arrest in Iran Nov. 1 on charges of spying for Israel difficult to decipher.
Derakhshan, 33, emigrated to Canada in 2000 and helped ignite the blog boom in Iran in 2001 by posting simple instructions on how to create sites in Farsi. (Under the web name “Hoder” he blogs in both Farsi and English). In those days he was critical of the Iranian regime.
His profile rose in 2006 and 2007 when he traveled to Israel, flaunting Iranian laws against such contact. During two trips in which he was interviewed by Israeli media and spoke at a university, Derakhshan said he wanted to show Israelis a different face of Iran.
Derakhshan “overplayed his hand when he started praising the Iranian regime. The Iranians simply did not buy it.”
Over the past year, however, Derakhshan has taken a sharp turn and begun to support hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praising him for standing up to the West and defending Iran's nuclear program. He has become a controversial figure among the large community of reformist Iranian bloggers by accusing them, along with the United States and Israel, of seeking regime change in Iran.
Perhaps for that reason, he had few qualms about returning to live in Iran after nearly eight years in Canada. Before his family departed on Oct. 19, he acknowledged in his blog that "traveling to Israel is illegal and I'm ready to be prosecuted for it," but wrote that his defense would be 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. In sum, Derakhshan wrote, he didn't expect "anything in particular to happen to me."
Derakhshan was “playing a very dangerous game,” an Iranian dissident living in Washington DC. told The Daily Beast. “On the one hand, he appeared to be defending the Iranian regime against U.S. and Israeli threats, and on the other, he was presenting himself as a reformer who would go as far as visiting Israel, which Iran calls Little Satan as opposed to the U.S.—the Big Satan.”
The dissident, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, said Derakhshan “overplayed his hand when he started praising the Iranian regime a year ahead of his return to his homeland, making the Iranian authorities suspect that it was a cover for him to get back to Iran to spy for the Americans or Israel. The Iranians simply did not buy it. They watched him for a few days after he returned, then they moved to arrest him.”
Although Iranian authorities have yet to officially announce his arrest, Nazli Kamvari, a fellow blogger who lives in Toronto, confirmed in an AP report that Derakhshan was taken from his residence in Tehran by six government agents, who also took away his computer and personal items.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said Monday that Iranian security forces have uncovered a Mossad espionage network, but did not say how many suspects were arrested or under what circumstances.
"The Revolutionary Guard bureau of intelligence has recently located an espionage ring focused on the military," he told Iranian State television. "The ring was traced back to the Mossad and all of its operatives have been arrested."
According to reports in the Iranian news agency Fars, "the spies were trying to gather intelligence about the Iranian nuclear program, about the working of the Revolutionary Guard and about various people." It is not known whether Derakhshan is being linked to the alleged spy ring.
Canada's Foreign Ministry has asked Iranian authorities whether Derakhshan, who now has Canadian citizenship, is in custody but has not received an answer, The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged authorities to either release Derakhshan or charge him and give him a fair trail.
On his Facebook profile, Derakhshan, also known as the “Blogfather," lists “political ignorance” as his chief turn-off. Yet his grandstanding trips to Israel and his decision to return to Iran both appear naïve or foolhardy. So far, none of his 997 Facebook friends has left a comment on his wall.
On Saturday, Iran announced that Ali Ashtari, a 43-year-old Iranian convicted of spying for Israel, had been executed.
Salameh Nematt is the International Editor of The Daily Beast. He is the former Washington Bureau Chief for Al Hayat International Arab daily, where he reported on U.S. foreign policy, the war in Iraq, and the U.S. drive for democratization in the broader Middle East. He has also written extensively on regional and global energy issues and their political implications.