An Open Letters Project for Hossein Derakhshan

2011 Letters to Hoder

Write to HoderJune 15th is Write to Hoder Day. You can show support for Hoder and protest his continued imprisonment in Iran by writing a letter to Hoder on your blog or on Facebook. Drop a link to your letter into the update form and it will be added right here to an archive of links and letters.

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Letter #5: Clarinette

When I found out about this project, I thought that it will be very easy to write a letter to you. I have so many things to tell you and I want so much to know what you think about them, just like the first time we met after I was reading your blog for many years.

Now I am staring at the white screen not knowing what to write. What do you write to a friend who has spent two years and eight months in prison and who still doesn’t know when he will be freed? What do you write for not to be too serious, not too sad and yet not too light and inconsiderate? I don’t know. It is not everyday that I have my friends sent to prison for speaking up their minds. So, I will just write as if I am talking to you in that small café in Oberkampf and I will imagine your answers.

I never told you how horrified I was the day you called me to tell me that you were going back to Iran. I knew deep down that you had to go back, it was stronger than you. There was no other way. If you wanted to write about your country’s political situation, you had to be there and feel the situation. I also knew that you honestly loved your country, you missed it. You told me that you expected to go to jail for a short while, but you were ready for that. As I wished you a bon voyage, I couldn’t stop thinking: “Who knows when I will see him again … “.

We were all bluffed by your endless, complex, and even bizarre imprisonment. Of course, you were the first to indure such a long sentence; Nineteen and a half years of jail! Such a precise sentence for an uncommitted “crime”. Unfortunately, you are no longer the only one getting this kind of sentence. In the last few years, there has been so many arrests in Iran that we kind of loose track. One might say that they were trying to topple the government and the government is protecting itself. Even so, no one should be in jail for political reasons. We have to put this in our minds and believe in it without any exception. Otherwise, depending on the ruling power, one spectrum of the population or another will find itself behind bars. I personally don’t know what to think about Iran anymore. Few years back I was much more optimistic. Nowadays, I fear that the country will plunge into an anesthetizing hopelessness and that we will go back where we were twenty years ago. I don’t know what your opinions are right now, but I don’t see any other way out except a clean start. If you get what I mean.

I even think that the whole world needs a clean start. I wish we could just push the reset button and start all over again. Sometimes it is much easier to build anew than fix the broken pieces.

Leaving the depressing politics behind, let me tell you about myself. I am still doing research at the same place as you know. I have had two not-so-easy years trying to find a permanent position, but nothing has happened yet. I have visited Iran twice since you went back, and each time have specially passed by Evin to telepathically say a little hello to you. I don’t know if you have heard me. I try to write regularly in my blog and it turned out that many of my friends find my half-biographical writing interesting. I owe this to you.

I plan to go see the new Iranian movie that is now in cinemas in France, Jodayie Nader az Simin, or as they translated it here “Une Separation“. I went to see Zanane bedoon mardan (Women without men), which was visually very nice and poetic but I didn’t like the movie at all. Maybe I don’t understand feminism as Sharhnoosh Parsipour does. I am also sick an tired of everybody becoming an expert on women’s situation in Iran. If anything, Iranian women are strong and determined and will obtain what they want without needing the world to cry for them.

Ok, I hope this will be the only letter that I write to you while you are in prison. I can not wait for you to be released. I can not wait for you to find your peace and start writing again. Or who knows, make the movies that you have in mind. Even if you choose to go orthogonal to what I believe, I want you to have your voice. I wish to have the chance to see you again, happy, healthy and full of crazy ideas.

Be strong my friend,


Dear Hossein

This is going to be a really quick letter, because as usual I’m supposed to be doing something else right now. But I wanted to make sure I wrote to you on the official Letters to Hoder Day, not least because I saw they’d let you out for another short visit, and there’s a chance you might actually get to read what people are saying. I told David about it too: he’s in Pakistan working like a maniac at the moment, but I know he’ll write if he possibly can.

I was thinking the other day about that conference in Greenwich we ran a few years back, when you came to run a workshop on blogging for us. Some of those delegates have gone on to do great things already. There’s Simon, who co-founded the Global Poverty Project, which is going great guns, with 27,000 people already committed do taking some kind of action. And there’s Andrea, who gave up her civil service job in Korea to volunteer on the GBA Ships project, and has been doing some amazing things with communities across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I’m sure there are others – those are just the two I’ve spoken to most recently.

2007 already seems a long time ago to me. And that makes me realise it must be like another lifetime for you.

It also makes me think about a guy I knew who served some years in a UK prison in the late 80s and early 90s, and a conversation we once had about what it felt like being released. Phil told me that the hardest adjustments of all were to the small changes, like the fact that phone boxes (remember them?) had gone from taking coins to using prepaid cards. He described spying on other people using these newfangled gadgets, so that when he got into a phone box himself he’d know what to do, and wouldn’t look like a newly released prisoner.

I have to say at this point that Phil was always a great storyteller (in every sense of the word), so this may not actually be true. But the point is a good one. So it’s my hope that the hardest thing you have to face when you come home is figuring out how to work a smartphone and an i-Pad.

Thinking of you.

Letter #3: Adam Vasco

Dear Hoder
This letter is an experiment in using my new phone.
That should raise a smile from someone such as yourself who was blogging before most of us knew what blogging was.
There is not only the challenge of thumbs and a small keyboard (Thanks be for auto suggest) but also the challenge of getting this off my phone and onto a computer.
I have the feeling it is going to be a long morning; however like you I have time to spare. I am sitting in a quiet cafe across the road from the beach in Palma Nova watching the attractive and the not so attractive stroll by on this, one of the first mornings of what I hope will be a long hot summer;
There are more of the latter than the former – lastima.
Not really a fair statement to make to you I suppose. This is going to be difficult.
There are some large yachts in the background including a three masted schooner. These have been my life (large yachts not three masted schooners) for thirty years plus, which is a little different.
Ahhh; new trick…. hold phone sideways and both screenspace and keyboard are bigger and thus more manageable – sort of.
I don’t go to sea anymore, my relaxation is either walking in the mountains or basking on the beach. So it is excruciating for me who loves freedom to have to contemplate the life of one to whom freedom is being denied. Have strength brother, have strength.
As such this operation of writing to you will probably be of more benefit to myself than to you which is highly ironic as I am writing this hopefully to benefit you. I hope you appreciate the Meta of this.
Behind me two ladies north of fifty are discussing Facebook and someone is smoking so its time go move and continue later.
Getting this off the phone on to the computer was as difficult as I suspected. I ended up emailing it to myself as I can’t get “dropbox” to work because I am not a geek.
All of which is beside the point.
So Hoder my invisible friend from the internets (TM Coldchef); invisible but not forgotten; your mefite colleagues will try to ensure that somehow your name and thus yourself lives on.
We will pester those who should be pestered and try to give succor to those who need succor. Gordafarin kindly translated what I believe your sister wrote on her / your wordpress page about spending the Noruz holidays with them. It bought tears to my eyes and I am a cynical sixty year old fart.
So my friend take a deep breath. Us on the outside will do what little we can. May your god(s) if you have them be with you. If not; when I see the skies, the mountains, and the sea I will think a little of you and hope that one day soon you may see them again too. If you will excuse the phrase….Ahumdallilah.
You are in my thoughts,

Hello Hoder,

I’ve been following the news of you since your detention began, thanks to your friends here on MetaFilter, where I am also lucky enough to call myself a member. It seems fitting, somehow, to read your old blog posts and the fractured details of your current troubles as they emerge from halfway around the world on a laptop, in a darkened room, over-medicated and still in pain, as if we are sharing a secret in the dead of night. You and I. And whoever else may be listening.

The secret isn’t really secret, of course. Telling truth to power has always been a dangerous proposition. The other half of the secret, though – the one I keep here in the dark – is maybe less understood, if still felt, I think, on a cellular level by all who strive for power and all who cannot help but hold them to account. And that secret is this: truth is the water of life. You can dam it, you can hide from it, you can even poison it – but you simply cannot live without it. And once you get thirsty enough, there’s no telling what all will get wet.

And try as you might, you cannot drink from a fist.

Your thirst for the truth has caused you great pain and landed you in darkness, but I promise you that your efforts have not been in vain. You have shed light on the inherent beauty of your homeland, as well as the injustices that threaten to overshadow that land. You have opened eyes and even more importantly, in championing blogging as a tool for grassroots political justice, you have opened he lines of communication that will one day drive the shadows back into the night, where they belong.

You suffer because you were dangerous, and in their desperation, your tormentors demonstrate their weakness. Your story is being told. Your words were once a trickle, but in your suffering they gain force and are repeated and become as a river. Soon the truth will flood, and there will be no containing it. And still, they cannot make a fist and drink.

You matter. You have made a difference. You are a hero.

Can you hear me Hoder? I think I hear the rain.


Dear Hoder:

So this begins what I what I hope will be a very short correspondence; I’m sorry it’s going to be one-sided, but there isn’t very much I can do about that. Traditionally, correspondents know at least something of each other, but you and I have never crossed paths, so perhaps a pen-pal type summary is in order. I’m a 39 year old American woman, though I’m an ex-pat of long standing. I live in Ireland with my activist husband, no children and a much-loved dog. I design and develop websites for startups, mostly Irish ones, and I’m a Metafilter member like you.

I’ve never been in prison; it’s hard for me to imagine what daily life (from the horrific to the mundane) would be like, but I often have the completely stupid thought: I would really miss the internet. I’m aware that deprivation of WiFi isn’t really going to rank up there with deprivation of liberty, but I also can’t help feeling like after 15 formative years of 24/7 use, “online” is part of who I am and that I would, in some small way, feel cast apart from my very identity without it.

The press has reported that you’ve been granted leave twice in the past few months – once in December and again in May. I have no idea what I would want most on a 48 or 72-hour leave from prison (my favourite foods? an amazing bath? just the freedom to walk outside?) but there’s a part of me that hopes you got your hands on an iPad while you were out. I know they came out long after you were arrested in 2008, but it’s actually hard to imagine they’ve only been on the market for just over a year – they pretty much took over on arrival and kind of changed everything in technology land overnight. The idea that I would be designing newsletters in the knowledge that 15% of them would be read on a devices that don’t even have a real keyboard would never have occurred to me in years gone by. Then again, historically I’ve proven to be a pretty poor futurist, so that’s probably lack of imagination on my part.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I was transported 50 or 100 years into the future. Technology and communication changes so fast even today; would the devices and technologies of the future be something I could pick up and embrace, or would they seem unnatural and difficult to grasp because I didn’t develop understanding and  skills for them as they themselves developed? I suspect I would step out of my personal Tardis a Luddite in a strange land, unable to cope with a future that had left me behind. I hope that whenever you are eventually, permanently released, that isn’t your experience. Blogger, where your activism took hold, is still there — and geeze, if LiveJournal isn’t dead yet, Blogger’s probably good for a long, long run.

Thinking of you,

I started Letters to Hoder upon reading the news that Hossein Derakhshan’s 19.5-year prison sentence had been confirmed by an Iranian court. You can read about Hoder, this project and the thoughts behind it on the About page.

I am slowly adding links of resources for people who would like to know what they might do to try to help Hoder, or who would like to keep abreast of updates as they unfold. I have constructed a basic timeline on the About page, but if you have suggestions for links, please add a comment here.

If you’d like to show your support for Hoder and to help keep up awareness and coverage of his situation, you’re invited to write a letter to Hoder, too – please see here.