First Amendment Badass: Hossein Derakhshan

By J. DeVoy

You may have never heard of Hossein Derakhshan or his more popular moniker, Hoder.  More than a name, Hoder.com – now a parked GoDaddy page – was one man’s outlet for free speech in Iran, a country not given to free expression and individual liberty.

Yesterday, Derakhshan was released on furlough from a 19.5-year sentence on an unprecedented $1,500,000 bail.  While normally a sentence associated with rape, murder or America’s asinine drug laws, a trial court gave Derakhshan the sentence based on the following charges:

cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime, propagation in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, and implementation and management of obscene websites (source.)

As a dual citizen of Iran and Canada, Derakhshan pioneered Iranian blogging.  Based in Toronto, he led the way in Persian-language blogging in terms of technology, content and building a critical mass of user interest, even writing a guide to blogging in Persian.

Derakhshan didn’t take shit from anybody.  When his views on Iran changed around 2006, and he began expressing support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions – both technologically and militaristically – he was vocal and unapologetic in his views.  When others disagreed with him, he personally attacked them.  In 2007, an Iranian who Derakhshan smeared even sued him for libel.

When Derakhshan returned to Iran in 2008, it took nearly inhumane conditions for the Iranian government to silence him.  He was beaten until he confessed working with the CIA and Canadian intelligence authorities.  Additionally, Derakhshan was all but denied access to his family during his incarceration, seeing them only twice during his prison term.  His family was banned from his court proceedings as well.

While Hoder.com expired on November 25, 2010, its cultural and social significance kept it from dying sooner.  In 2009, GoDaddy extended the domain’s registration for one year – free of charge! – once confronted by internet users about its importance.  Its content remains preserved through 2008 at the Internet Archive.

Few are willing to risk personal liberty for free speech, or can grasp that it cuts both ways (cue the Tea Party’s collective gasp over Ron Paul’s predictable but accurate defense of Julian Assange).  Yet Derakhshan has done that, at the cost of $1.5 million in bail and a potential full sentence of almost two decades.  As the culmination of nearly a decade of activism, his actions are more than stubbornness or recklessness; they require an ideological commitment that most self-proclaimed activists lack.

When Derakhshan walks, I would not be surprised to hear a loud pinging accompanying his footsteps.  Based on his year in prison and prospective risks, the reasons why are obvious.

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