As an international human rights activist and cofounder of Stop Child Executions organization I am writing to you with great concern of the news of extending a fellowship to Hossein Derakhshan. I have many friends who have graduated from Harvard and I fear the reputation of the school will be forever tarnished by this decision. Moreover, it is a slap in the face of more deserving Individuals who truly embody the values of your prestigious university. The vast majority of the Iranian population in and outside of Iran will feel personally jilted by the fact that courageous Iranian protesters are sacrificing their lives and safety for the cause of human rights and freedom while the likes of Hossein Derakhshan who has aided and abetted in the imprisonmemt of political prisoners and innocent people is being awarded. One simply needs to look at his past writing to understand the nefarious nature of his sentiments and betrayal of his fellow countrymen. All of this is well documented in his archive blogs and twitter posts which I can make available to you upon request.
Initially Mr. Derakhshan, the self professed “blog-father of Iran” was hailed for giving an online platform to Iranians to express themselves through blogs. In 2003, I was interviewed by then independent journalist Derakhshan for a broadcast on BBC Persian. I admired the fact that he publicly wrote on his blogs about democratic reform and the repression of freedom of expression that exists in Iran under the current regime. A couple of years later, his writing drastically changed from one spectrum to the other and started to defame and slander the most active Iranian Human Rights defenders including Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, women’s rights advocate Mehrangiz Kar, Iranian-Canadian scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo, Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari and International human rights lawyer and Harvard Alumni Payam Akhavan. Derakhshan’s writings put many Iranians at risk, especially those who were wrongfully incarcerated by the regime. I personally experienced Derakhshan’s 180 degree about-face when he posted slanderous lies about me in his blog and in Iran’s state run newspaper “Kayhan”. He started writing pieces in support of the Iranian regime in defense of Ayatollah Khomeini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. This worried the millions of Iranians who had used his blogging platform and feared him having access to their accounts and sharing it with regime officials.
I hope your institution will re-evaluate and reconsider your decision given the new information you have been provided . Harvard does not want to be tainted by the name of Hossein Derakhshan but instead should award such prestigious fellowships to individuals like Maryam Mirzakhani who have elevated the names of their affiliated institutions .
Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay
President and co founder Stop Child Executions
Founder of The Nazanin Foundation