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Blogging in Iran: A Dangerous Prospect

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When Hossein Derakhshan was arrested last month, the media was up in arms. Less than 48 hours after the first report, The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Washington Post had all picked up on the story, even though the arrest had not yet been confirmed. A web site, freehoder.com, details his story.

In the same week, Omidreza Mirsayafi was sentenced two years and six months in prison for the contents of his blog. The usual suspects covered the story: Global Voices Advocacy immediately issued a statement, then provided a followup piece detailing the arrests of other Iranian bloggers over the years. Reporters Without Borders documented Mirsayafi's arrest and subsequent trial. But the mainstream media? Crickets could be heard.

Of course, it's unsurprising that Hossein Derakhshan's case received so much attention; after all, he too was a journalist, and had ties to many of the same publications which called for his immediate release. But the attention given to him should not be denied other bloggers in the same circumstance. Thus, here is the story of Omidreza Mirsayafi.

According to Reporters Without Borders, he was arrested on April 22, then released 41 days later on 100 million toman (EU 72,000) bail. He then stood trial on November 22, and was charged under article 514 of the criminal code which, according to Amnesty International, "singles out 'insults' made against the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran," and article 500, which states that "propaganda against the state is punishable by three months to one year in prison."

Yet unlike Derakhshan, whose English and Farsi blogs were full of posts about the Iranian government, Mirsayafi's focused mainly on culture and traditional Persian music. He told Reporters Without Borders: "I am a cultural blogger, not a political one. Of all the entries I posted online, only two or three were satirical. I did not intend to insult anyone."

Why Mirsayafi? That question remains, and is likely to remain, unanswered. Iran has a large blogosphere (according to research from Internet & Democracy, nearly 60,000 active bloggers exist), and many of its bloggers write about religion and politics. Why one blogger might be singled out over another is a question that researchers have yet to discover.

One thing is certain: blogging, the last bastion for speaking one's mind in Iran, is becoming a dangerous prospect. Omidreza Mirsayafi was not the first to suffer for it, and will likely not be the last.