The Iranian regime continues to suppress speech, even when the speaker is an occasional supporter of their own cause. It convicted Hossein Derakshan, the contrarian Iranian-Canadian blogger, for crimes including "creating propaganda against the Islamic regime" and "insulting religious sanctity," and now prosecutors are reportedly asking for the death penalty. Iran should release Mr. Derakhshan and give all those seized by the increasingly paranoid government an opportunity to demonstrate their innocence.
Being a pain in the ass seems to be Mr. Derakhshan's only transgression. Shortly after moving to Toronto in 2000, he taught thousands of Iranians how to start their own blogs after posting instructions in Farsi for how to use a popular blogging tool, earning him the nickname "The Blogfather." In 2006, he visited Israel, saying "I want to humanize Israel for Iranians … Israel is not thirsty for Muslim blood." More recently, he became an apologist, of sorts, for the regime, speaking out in favour of its quest for nuclear weapons.
Mr. Derakhshan's iconoclasm was on full display in an interview with the regime's English-language channel Press TV, one of his last public appearances before being seized in Iran in 2008. He praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for "breaking the taboo of questioning of a state called Israel." But he also criticized the Iranian President for presenting himself like "a prophet" in a UN General Assembly speech, and called on Iran to be "more open to using PR companies" to spread its message. Mr. Derakshan's mother said in an interview published on Thursday that her son had "repented and returned to serve his country."
Mr. Derakshan's views and ways may not be to everyone's liking - he doesn't fit neatly as either a state propagandist or an agitator for democracy. But free speech is often inconvenient; indeed, that is one of the reasons why free people should be agitating for his release.
Many other prisoners in Iran stand behind, if not necessarily with, Mr. Derakhshan. It is a diverse group and includes names familiar to us: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning for committing "adultery while married;" Canadian journalists Maziar Bahari, tortured in custody, and Zahra Kazemi, killed in custody; Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the American hikers with no political motive who were seized near the Iraq / Iran border last July and remain in custody. Others, Iranians all, are less known, including those detained or executed in the aftermath of the Green Revolution that arose during and after last year's contested presidential election result, and Vahid Asghari, another blogger who could face death. Reporters Without Borders says Mr. Derakhshan and Mr. Asghari have both been tortured to have confessions extracted from them.
They all deserve due process, and the right to speak and contest their punishments. Even if Mr. Derakhshan did not carry a Canadian passport, we would still need to speak up for him. For while he and other prisoners in Iran are not enemies of the state, the current regime, bent only on self-preservation, regards them as enemies.