The blog of the Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan (aka Hoder) has been suspended by the U.S. based hosting company, Hosting Matters, after a complaint filed by lawyers representing Mehdi Khalaji, Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute. The complaint -not filed to the court- centered on allegedly defamatory content published on Derakhshan's blogs. Hosting Matters requested that Hossein remove a specific post related to Mehdi Khalaji:
regarding the material and commentary you have posted, we have found that the material and commentary fall into a grey area regarding the allegations made by the complainant. The most prudent course of action, whether the allegations of defamation are valid or not in this instance, is to remove the material from the site
While we do not agree with the assessment as it relates to the latest post you have made, we do not have the time, interest, or resources to invest in continually dealing with his complaints and to review your site. Please remove that post and refrain from mentioning this person in any form on the site you host within this network.
“This is incredibly disturbing,” wrote Sepideh Saremi, “the host recognized that Khalaji/Khalaji’s lawyers were wrong but still allowed Khalaji’s bullying to force their hand.”
After removing the post in question, the hosting company made a new request, this time asking Hossein to remove anything he has written mentioning Mehdi Khalaji “in any language in which it is posted” and “to refrain from mentioning this person in any form on the site.”
Last Friday, I was kicked out of my hosting company (Florida-based Hosting Matters), as a result of a legal notice sent by Mehdi Khalaji, an Iranian fellow at a neo-conservative think-tank (Washington Institute for the Near East Policy with Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and James Woolsey on its advisory board).
Mhedi Khalaji's lawyer has sent a notice to my hosting company and also my domain registrar, Go Daddy, asking them to a) remove any ‘defamatory’ material about him, b) make me publish an apology, and c) pay $10,000 for the claimed damages. (…) Then last Friday, I noticed that the hosting company had actually removed, from my web serve and even my blogging software's database, any post where Mehdi Khalaji was named in English. After threatening me not to disclose what the hosting company did, and after a few email exchanges, they terminated my account.
Mehdi Khalaji's lawyers were also requesting that the hosting company provide them “with any information in their possession” that indicates the Internel protocol addresses (IP) of the visitors of Derakhshan's web sites since their creation. “I feel that this presents a grave privacy concern,” noted Nart Villeneuve, technical research director at CitizenLab. “Handing over the IP addresses of the visitors to Hossein’s blog? I fail to see how that is related to the alleged defamatory claims.” Villeneuve warned that “the legal notice that resulted in the deletion of some of Hossein Derakhshan’s blog posts by his hosting company and lead to the termination of his blog’s hosting service should raise red flags within the Anti-Censorship community.” In another post “Censored in Iran, Deleted in USA“, Villeneuve, who is also documenting Internet content filtering and surveillance practices worldwide with the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) noticed that “Threatening ISP’s with “take down” requests is one of the most undocumented methods of censoring Internet content.”
Nima Milaninia, the editor of the blog Iranian Truth, submitted numerous legal arguments contesting Hosting Matters’ decision to suspend Hossein Derakhshan blogs:
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This federal law preempts any state laws to the contrary: “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” Adding that “Shutting down a blog and seeking to control its contents, even though it is legally permissible, is not an action ANY service provider should be committing. Its enough that all bloggers and activists take notice and petition against their action.”
And while some Iranian bloggers are trying to find the right solution to the Derakhshan/ Khalaji dispute, Jahanshah Javid, who knows “Hossein and Mehdi personally and have enjoyed their company” thinks that:
Hossein has not been found guilty in a court of law. He has fallen victim to an aggressive lawyer and an internet hosting company that's trying to cover its ass. If Hossein had a lawyer and there was a trial, I am sure the court would not have ordered his site be shut down. And it would not have forced him to remove ALL references to Mehdi Khalaji in his blog either.
“What Next” asked Iranian Woman:
In a democracy you don't selectively give voice to one group of people and shut others down because they don’t speak to your liking. It is disturbing to see that some so called Iranian human rights, women rights, and god knows what rights activists actually are happy and cheerful for Hossein Derakhshan’s blog being off the map! I don’t think there was another blogger who questioned Derakhshan’s motives and wrote her opinion of him before anyone else as much as I have but I stand for his right. This is despite the fact that we stand on two opposite poles! Derakhshan has the right to express his opinion, and to write.
Aside from the political and ideological issues that can legally be addressed and discussed by those for and against Hossein Derakhshan's rights to express himself on his blog, the most important questions raised by this case are relevant to all of us: Are our personal blogs safe with commercial hosting companies, especially when our writing may be deemed controversial? What if hosting companies edit our posts, deleting whatever they want? Given how easily content was forced off the internet in Derakhshan's case, by claims of defamation untested in a court of law, maybe the answer is to find alternative hosting companies and ISPs which do not cave in to lawyers’ intimidation or remove content in response to unproven claims.
In his speech at the annual awards dinner (2007) held by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), Amnesty International's campaigns director, Tim Hancock, called on internet service providers (ISPs) to protect online freedom of expression:
Web users and service providers alike have a responsibility to keep alive the things that have made the internet great — its democracy, its freedom and the way it gives people access to knowledge and the opportunity to participate and be heard, in a way that was unthinkable 45 years ago.