On January 11, 2018 Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s (HKS) Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy named Mr. Hossein Derakhshan as one of its 2018 fellows. The news struck us with disappointment, leaving us to question the integrity and merits of the decision made by Shorenstein Center to grant Mr. Derakhshan an opportunity of such calibre. It appears to us that this fellowship award is either the result of a major oversight by Shorenstein Center’s leadership, or else a clear statement by HKS to stand against a large and diverse community of Iranian human rights advocates who have for decades fought for transparency, democracy and equality in Iran.
We, the undersigned of this letter, demand that Harvard University takes on the necessary steps to reassess Mr. Derakhshan’s case, conduct thorough due diligence and disinvites Mr. Derakhshan to Harvard University.
We choose to believe that Shorenstein Center does not know enough about this man and his systematic and unjustifiable activities against Iranian citizens, human rights advocates and journalists over the years. As such, we take it upon us to provide a summary of Mr Derakhshan’s activities, not stated in his bio posted on Shorenstein Center’s website. His systematic intimidation of Iranian advocates has indeed brought about irreversible consequences for many innocent citizens and advocates globally.
A simple Google Search could have sufficed for Shorenstein Center’s selection committee to disqualify Mr. Derakhshan from a fellowship at a school named after a great leader of 20th Century, President John F. Kennedy. As stated in the mission of Harvard Kennedy School. It is disheartening and alarming to see a premier academic institution established based upon values of respect, honesty and accountability to neglect its very principles by the selection of an individual like Mr. Derakhshan as a fellow in 2018. We live in a time when preserving our uncompromising commitment to democratic values, accountability and transparency are of the essence.
Opportunities such as this fellowship are typically there to empower individuals, influencers, experts, advocates and leaders who put their knowledge into practice for the betterment of the society. However, with its selection of Mr. Derakhshan, Shorenstein Center appears to also grant fellowships to influencers who hinder the wellbeing of those who courageously work to realize democratic values locally and globally. Mr. Derakhshan may be an influencer, but one whose has effectively used his knowledge irresponsibly. Granting Mr. Derakhshan a fellowship at Harvard University has sent an alarming signal to the Iranian human rights community in the country and abroad.
We, the undersigned of this letter, consider this decision a clear act by Harvard Kennedy School to take side with those who limit space for dialogue and advocacy through government-sponsored means cyber and offline intimidation techniques, causing irreversible harm to the real leaders of our nation. Mr. Derakhshan may have once been a person of high potential to turn into a sincere leader for his community and to contribute to Iranian people’s struggle for freedom of information and expression. Nevertheless, he deliberately chose to misuse his influence and to turn his back towards the very individuals he could have helped and supported with his technological expertise. His decision, and the activities that followed, do not merit recognition in the name of the late President John F. Kennedy.