TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian court has sentenced a pioneering Iranian blogger to more than 19 years in prison, a human rights activist told Reuters on Tuesday.
Iranian-Canadian Hossein Derakhshan, nicknamed “the Blogfather” and credited with launching a blogging revolution in Iran, has been held in prison in the Islamic state since 2008 on what the media has said are suspicions of spying for Israel.
“We were surprised that Derakhshan has been sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for cooperating with hostile countries, spreading propaganda and insulting religious figures,” a human rights activist, who asked not be named, told Reuters.
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted “an informed judiciary source” as saying the sentence issued for Derakhshan was not final and he could still make an appeal. Judiciary officials were not available for comment.
Derakhshan was a journalist in Tehran before moving to Toronto in 2000. He made his name by publishing instructions on how to use blogging software to publish blogs in Farsi, sparking an explosion of blogging in the Iranian language.
In Ottawa, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he was deeply concerned by news of the sentence.
“Our officials continue to seek confirmation of these reports from Tehran. If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable. Canada believes that no one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one’s inherent right to freedom of expression,” he said in a statement.
Derakhshan, who was critical of the Tehran government in the past, visited Israel in 2006. Iran does not recognize Israel and Iranians are banned from traveling
Israel and Iran have been locked in a long-running war of words as Tehran presses ahead with its nuclear program in defiance of U.N. sanctions.
Opposition websites also reported on Tuesday that prominent journalist Issa Saharkhiz had been sentenced to three years in jail for “insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and spreading propaganda against the Islamic system”.
Fars said he could make an appeal.
Saharkhiz, arrested last year, was an aide to reformist leader Mehdi Karoubi, who lost to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a disputed June 2009 election.
Iran’s opposition says the vote was rigged to secure the reelection of Ahmadinejad but authorities deny the charge.
The vote was followed by the worst unrest since the Islamic republic was founded in 1979 and street protests were put down violently by security forces. Mass detentions and trials followed. Two people were hanged and scores of detainees remain in jail.
Editing by Noah Barkin