Posted: December 15, 2008, 4:01 PM
Full Comment, Canadian politics
On November 1st, the controversial Canadian-Iranian weblogger Hossein Derakhshan was arrested in Tehran by agents of the judiciary. They were acting on orders of the notorious prosecutor-general Saeed Mortazavi, implicated in the torture and murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in July 2003. The arrest has created a predicament and challenge for the Canadian government as well as democratic forces in the Canadian-Iranian diaspora. Since President Ahmadinejad's reign in 2005, the self-styled "blogfather" who once championed the reformist cause in cyberspace had turned his talents to defamation of human rights advocates and anti-Western propaganda. It is now up to those he mercilessly defamed to ensure that he doesn't meet a tragic fate similar to Kazemi.During the reformist period under President Khatami, Derakhshan was one of many young Iranians who promoted democratic reforms in the blogosphere. Some credit him with making Persian-language blogs one of the most prolific in cyberspace. Derakhshan even visited Israel on his Canadian passport in order to promote "people to people" dialogue among adversaries. Despite this commendable record, at one point he became a leading apologist for President Ahmadinejad, referring to him approvingly as the reincarnation of Ayatollah Khomeini's "revolutionary" spirit. In a campaign perceived by many as an opportunistic volte face, he spent considerable effort defaming Iranian human rights advocates, portraying them as traitors and enemies of the Iranian people.I was one of the targets of Derakhshan's hate campaign. In one of his postings, he claimed that the celebrated Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi should instead receive the "Hypocrisy Award" because she had allowed her daughter to study under my supervision at McGill University, and I was allegedly an American agent for having founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Haven, Connecticut together with former colleagues at Yale University. In another posting he claimed that the "confession" of arrested University of Toronto professor Ramin Jahanbegloo that his research fellowship at the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy was part of a CIA conspiracy to foment a "velvet revolution" in Iran was a genuine admission and not a statement made under duress. When the Canadian government appointed me to the Board of Directors of the International Centre for Human Rights & Democracy in March of this year, he claimed that this was a continuation of the U.S. conspiracy insofar as this organization had awarded Canada's most prestigious John Humphrey Freedom Award to Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, who he also portrayed as an American agent.Given his recent role as apologist for President Ahmadinejad and his systematic defamation of human rights dissidents, Derakhshan may have assumed that he would be safe when he returned to Iran after spending several years in Toronto and London. Despite his family's ties to influential figures in the Islamic Republic, certain hardline elements have apparently not forgotten his earlier criticism of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei and recognized his potential value as yet another source of "confessions" confirming the foreign conspiracy theories that the regime regularly invokes to buttress its role as guardian of the revolution. It is a cause for serious concern however, that there has been no news whatsoever as to his place or condition of detention for the past two weeks. Given the appalling record of Iran's judiciary in torture and "accidental" deaths in custody, it is reasonable to surmise that Derakhshan may be in serious danger.Those human rights advocates that he worked so hard to demonize, myself included, must now transcend his treacherous politics and defend his fundamental rights, both because he is a fellow Canadian citizen, and more fundamentally, because he is a human being. The litmus test of human rights is the inherent dignity of all and not political convenience. Derakhshan's vilified enemies may yet become his saviours in his darkest hour.
Payam Akhavan is Professor of International Law at McGill University in Montreal, a former UN war crimes prosecutor at The Hague, and Co-Founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre.
Labels: Hossain Derakhshan