Hoder's Virtual Struggle for Freedom

In Iran there are currently over 100,000 weblogs serving as an outlet of expression. One of the pioneer bloggers is Hossein Derakhshan (Hoder), whose appearance on the web set off a small-scale media revolution in Iran. Golrokh Esmaili reports

Hossein Derakhshan (Hoder) (photo: Weblog Hoder)
In 2002, in response to one of his readers, Hoder wrote instructions on how to set up a weblog whereupon the number of Iranian weblogs on the Internet rapidly grew

​​Hossein Derakhshan is nervously observing the American border guard at the crossing point from Canada to the USA. The customs officer has started to google Derakhsan's name. What was merely intended to be a spot check, has resulted in a direct hit. The search engine has found 200,000 entries.

Derakhshan, born in Tehran in 1970, is better known under his pseudonym "Hoder." No longer anonymous, he is today regarded by many as the man responsible for a "small-scale media revolution."

Before Derakshan or "Hoder" (the pseudonym is made up of the first letters of his name – HOssein and DERakhshan) went to study in Canada, he worked in Teheran as a journalist and wrote an Internet column for a newspaper, which, like many others, has since been banned.

Weblogs as bridges to the outside world

The events of September 11, 2001 led to his first encounters with weblogs or "blogs." These online diaries helped him to keep abreast of current events and to inform others about his experiences and political views.

Derakhshan posted his first weblog in June 2002 under the name "Editor: Myself." There he not only ruminates on political topics, but also on literature, music, sports, and social life in Iran.

He began by writing exclusively in his native Persian (Farsi), and only later in English – primarily to build bridges to those outside of Iran. From the very start, he was aware of the significance and impact of web diaries.

He was also certain that when weblogs finally gained acceptance on the Internet, they would inevitably cause quite a stir and prove unstoppable. Back then, he could hardly have dreamed that his hopes would be realized to such an extent.

In 2002, in response to one of his readers, he wrote instructions on how to set up a weblog. Derakhshan made his article, entitled "How I can write a blog," available for downloading on his web site, whereupon the number of Iranian weblogs on the Internet rapidly grew.

In the cross hairs of the mullahs

There are presently around 100,000 such electronic diaries posted in Persian on the web. This new medium offers the opportunity to be heard in a country in which there is no freedom of expression. The government eventually felt forced to act. In 2004, the first weblogger was arrested on account of his online activities.

Hoder does not fear the Iranian government. On the contrary. He uses every opportunity to draw the attention of the general public abroad to the problems of his country. He tirelessly participates in events, workshops, and conferences all over the world, speaking about censure and repression in his country.

In June 2005, he even traveled to Tehran to observe the parliamentary elections on location. At the same time, he organized other Iranian bloggers to report daily on the course of the elections. Hoping to face fewer difficulties with the authorities during the election month, he had already announced in April that he was in Tehran. His goal was to test his own credibility with the mullahs in case he was being observed.

His stay in Tehran passed without incident. Upon departure, however, he was prevented from leaving. Officers stopped him at the airport and confronted him with a printed version of his weblog.

Although Derakhshan was probably not aware of the consequences of his actions, he showed no fear. He knew only too well that the government wouldn't want to upset the public with unnecessary imprisonment and interrogation of Iranians just a week before the elections. Derakhshan was finally allowed to leave the country seven days later and only after publishing numerous apologies, among other things, on his weblog.

His parents tend to stand behind the conservatives, as opposed to Derakhshan, who sides with the reformers within Iran. Yet, although they sometimes fear for their son, they support and defend him. They are even somewhat proud of their son. His father has since started attending a computer course.

Internet dissident between worlds

Today, Hossein Derakhshan would like to live in New York. There he knows a number of people who would support him in his work. He sees New York as a hub and meeting point for all those involved in this age of new media.

He had already found and moved into an apartment there. Yet, what prevented his entry into the United States were the repercussions of a sentence found in his weblog – "I am based in New York." Because Derakhshan, who is also a Canadian citizen, couldn't show that he had an official entry permit to the USA, he wasn't allowed to state that he was living in New York.

In the meantime, he is preparing to have his furniture sent back, although he is not exactly sure where. For the next six months, at least, he is forbidden entry into the United States.

As a result, Hossein Derakhshan doesn't only feel homeless, but also robbed of his illusions – in particular those concerning freedom in America. But Derakhshan wouldn't be himself if he let discouragement get the upper hand.

He is considering how he can meaningfully spend the next six months and if he should go to Europe. Perhaps he will return to Canada. Only one thing is for certain – wherever he may be, he will be doing his utmost to achieve his goal – writing for a free Iran.

Gollie Esmaili

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by John Bergeron


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