An Open Letters Project for Hossein Derakhshan


Hoder is the online nickname of blogger Hossein Derakhshan, a dual-citizen Canadian and Iranian blogger, journalist and anti-censorship activist. He is credited with starting the blogging revolution in Iran and is regarded as the Persian blogging “Blogfather.” He has been imprisoned in Iran since 2008 and is currently serving a 19.5-year sentence for “collaborating with enemy states and of propaganda against the Islamic system.”

Basic Timeline:

  • November, 2001: Hoder posts instructions on how to blog on Blogger in Persian with the unicode characterset, sparking a Persian blogging surge. Hoder becomes known as the Persian Blogfather.
  • August, 2002: Hoder joins Metafilter.
  • January, 2006: Hoder visits Israel on his Canadian passport.
  • November, 2008: Hoder visits Iran and is arrested and detained in Tehran. He faces the death penalty.
  • September, 2010: Hoder is sentenced to 19.5 years in an Iranian prison. He appeals.
  • June, 2011: His appeal is denied. A Supreme Court appeal is planned.

About Letters to Hoder

Hoder has been a member of Metafilter since 2002, and was active in online discussions there through July of 2007. I joined Metafilter in March of 2007 but our paths never crossed; although I was aware of who he was, I was unaware he was a MeFi member until news of his arrest was posted in November 2008. I followed this story and the updates closely, hoping that a combination of public outcry, Hoder’s own preferred mechanism of online activism, and diplomatic overtures would lead to his eventual release.

In June of 2011, when Hoder’s appeal was denied and his prison term was confirmed, it became clear that none of these ongoing efforts were resulting in his freedom. It is likely that Hoder will remain in prison for the foreseeable future, possibly the full 19.5 year sentence. Given the conditions reported by past prisoners at Evin prison, this time likely has involved and may continue to involve solitary confinement, deprivation and torture.

For the record, I’m not particularly interested in Hoder’s political views, have no opinion on whether Hoder’s trip to Israel was heroic or foolhardy, and don’t invest a lot of time in the other issue that are debated surrounding his case. I care that a member of my community has been imprisoned and is facing a long sentence in severe conditions. Were I able to write him the physical letters and send the care packages you can send to people who are incarcerated in countries that even vaguely comply with the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, I would – but I can’t.

With Letters to Hoder, I’m making a 20 year commitment. I will write to Hoder every single year until he is released. I thought very carefully about this project, and while it would be nice if I wrote to Hoder daily, weekly or even monthly, I know I won’t; I don’t even call my own mother some months. I may write more often and I may not, but at least once a year I will sit down and write a letter to Hoder. The best outcome, of course, is that this project finishes with only one or two letters, but if there need to be 19, there will be.

This is a small effort and one I am painfully aware is totally ineffective at changing anything at all for Hoder. But whenever he’s released, it might be nice for him to know that even though his voice was silenced, the archives of much of his writings went offline, and the press for his cause has declined over time, he was not forgotten.

My hope is that if other people join in this effort and use their own blogs and Facebook reach to write a letter to Hoder each year, too, we can keep up the profile of Hoder’s plight and let new waves of bloggers, activists and journalists know that he’s still there, he is still one of us, and he is still remembered.

–Sabrina Dent


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: