October 5, 2010

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 64 95 880

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Tehran 1316814737
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 879 6671 or +98 21 640 4018/4019

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the 19.5-year sentence given to Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein ‘Hoder’ Derakhshan.

According to our information, on September 29, 2010, more than three months after his trial began, a Revolutionary Court convicted Hossein Derakhshan, 33 years old, of “propagating against the regime,” “cooperating with hostile states,” “propagating against the regime,” “promoting counter-revolutionary groups,” “insulting Islamic thought and religious figures,” and “managing obscene web sites.” He was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison.

Derakhshan, who has lived in Canada since 2000 and holds Canadian citizenship, was arrested in Tehran on November 1, 2008, several weeks after returning to Iran, but officials did not officially acknowledge his detention until December 30, 2008. It is widely believed that Derakhshan was arrested for his blogs. He was held for nine months in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison, during which he was reportedly tortured.

Derakhshan is known as “the blogfather” in Iran for discovering how to make blogging software recognize Farsi characters and sparking the blogging revolution in the country. Derakhshan blogs in both English and Farsi. At the beginning of his blogging career, he was highly critical of the Iranian government, and was even made to sign an apology when he briefly returned to the country to cover the elections in 2005. However, more recently, Derakhshan has been increasingly sympathetic to the government and current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, endorsing a nuclear Iran, and supporting many of Ahmadinejad’s policies. In 2006, he visited Israel, using his Canadian passport. He documented the trip on his blog, calling it a way for Israelis and Iranians to see each other as people, without hate-filled propaganda.

PEN American Center condemns the 19.5-year sentence handed to Hossein Derakhshan simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. We believe that this development represents an even greater setback for the climate for freedom of expression in Iran, which has deteriorated considerably since the June 2009 presidential elections. We therefore call for Derakhshan’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the release all those currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula                                           
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee 

Larry Siems          
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: President
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency,
Palestine Avenue,
Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran
Islamic Republic of Iran

His Excellency Mr. Mohammad Khazaee
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United Nations
622 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 867-7086

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