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Interviewing an Iranian blogger before he faced a possible death penalty

Jim Elve is a longtime Canadian blogger and info-packrat.

He kept some 2003 interviews with Iranian-born blogger Hossein Derakhshan (a.k.a. Hoder), who returned to Iran from Toronto in 2008 and now finds himself in a jackpot. According to two Canadian groups, Derakhshan’s prosecutor is pushing for the death penalty for charges that include collaborating with enemy states and insulting religion.

Here are some excerpts of those interviews.

From Elves’ blog:

In my phone conversations, our interview and subsequent personal meeting, I found myself somewhat astonished by Hoder’s naivete. His outlook and world view seemed almost childlike in their rosy optimism. He felt that George W. Bush was essentially a nice man and that Iran and the rest of the Middle East would come to a peaceful understanding with Israel. He even got a fair bit of hate mail and snarky comments on his blog but he chalked them up entirely to jealousy. He knew that his large blog readership was coveted by lesser lights but he seemed to harbour no resentment to the heckling.

A couple of years ago when I heard that Hoder had gone back to Iran for a visit, I suspected that he was making a big mistake. A couple of months later when I heard that he’d gone missing, I suspected the worst. My fears were not unfounded. Finally, Hoder’s fate is being revealed. He has been locked up for two years and is facing a possible death sentence.

His optimism seems to run in the family. Hoder’s relatives are reported to be confident Canada will step in and prevent Iran from executing my friend. They must not have been following the near complete lack of support the Harper government has been offering to Canadians, particularly hyphenated Canadians, who have found themselves in trouble in foreign lands.

What I find fairly ironic about this incident is that Hoder’s writing was very mild in criticizing the Iranian regime. His bigger “crime” was likely that he taught other Persian speakers how to publish a blog. Among the Iranian expatriate community, bloggers who learned the craft from Hoder are, no doubt, much more critical and “deserving” of punishment in the eyes of the Iranian government. I suspect they are punishing Hoder to make an example to other Iranian bloggers.

Read the interviews, but here’s a few excerpts:

JE: You’ve said before that you don’t feel like you could go back to Iran.

Hoder: No. I don’t think I can go back, because I know that some of those hard-line, radical, and dangerous people are closely following my blog. They might be personally friendly people again, but I don’t think they’d let me simply go back to Iran without asking me questions – I’m sure that they are suspicious of who is behind all these things. …

JE: Okay, how do you feel about Bush?

Hoder: I think Iranians do not actually know Bush. Europeans do not know him either. I personally find him a cool person – very warm, very friendly, and down to earth. He actually would be very popular in Iran if people could really know him, because, you know, being down to earth is a very respected value among Iranians, traditionally. But as a politician he has done stupid things and he has kind of an arrogant and tough attitude which is different with his personal character I guess.

JE: But he did lump in Iran with his “axis of evil”.

Hoder: Yes he did. It’s very complicated. Ordinary lower-class people in Iran sometimes seem that they do not oppose a military action to remove the regime if it is not very violent and bloody. But I think it’s because they are so tired of being repressed by the Islamic regime that say these kind of things. Maybe if they see that this is going to happen in one or two days, they’d change their minds. I was hearing a lot of things from ordinary people: “What if it happens to Iran?” They wished that the same thing as Afghanistan could happen to Iran. Real political change in a short time. But then, I guess, the more they see Iraq, the more they give up the idea of military intervention. …

JE: You suggested already that you wouldn’t feel safe returning to Iran, particularly after announcing your symbolic candidacy. Someone has said they think you would be killed if you returned to Iran. Do you believe that?

Hoder: No, I don’t think they would kill me or anyone else that easily! Especially after the bad thing that happened to Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist who went to Iran and was beaten to death in Prison. I’m sure that they would detain me or want me to answer some questions, and probably would keep me in jail for a few months and take my passport.

JE: You’d be arrested?

Hoder: Yes, I would definitely be arrested. But, I don’t want to be like many of the traditional opposition groups in Europe and North America. They are kind of “underdogs”. They always exaggerate the threats against them and they always exaggerate their popularity. Part of it is because they usually badly need asylum and the money: welfare. I neither think I’m so popular and so important that the government cares about me, nor think that they are as brutal and as irrational as the opposition portrays them. They used to be very brutal like in 10, 15 years ago – maybe because they didn’t have this kind of international acceptance. But now, it’s completely different. They’re much more rational than before.

Fri, September 24 2010 » Main Page, Media