The former wife of an Iranian-Canadian blogger who was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for his provocative writings says she's stunned by the ruling.

"It's a tragedy. No one has ever gotten this kind of sentence for writing and expressing his opinion in Iran," Marjan Alemi told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday.

Hossein Derakhshan was sentenced Tuesday after being convicted of several offences, including spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment and insulting Islamic thoughts and religious figures. The 35-year-old was also convicted of promoting counter-revolutionary groups and working with "enemy states," because he visited Israel five years ago.

Alemi says she's been told to be content with the sentence, because at least Derakhshan wasn't sentenced to die, as many feared he would be. But Alemi suspects those fears were deliberately fomented by Iranian officials.

"What I think is they put the word out that it's going to be a death sentence so that when they give out the 19 years, his family was actually happy. I heard that at some point they told his family, ‘You should be happy; he didn't get a death sentence'," Alemi said.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon expressed concern about the sentence Tuesday, saying Canadian officials were still trying to confirm the sentence and to gain access to Derakhshan through the consulate.

"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," Cannon said in a statement.

"Iran must release him and other dual-nationals who have been unjustly detained," he added.

Derakhshan was born in Iran, but moved to Canada to attend university and later became a Canadian citizen. (Iran does not recognize dual citizenships.)

Ten years ago, he posted online instructions on how to publish blogs in Farsi, which popularized the practice of blogging within Iran. As a result, the man widely known by his online name "Hoder" began to be called the Iranian "blogfather."

Derakhshan has long been a staunch advocate of free expression in Iran, and published his political views freely on his blog. He later apologized for his dissenting views, and emerged as an unlikely supporter of the Iranian regime and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So when the Iranian government invited him back to Iran in 2008, he accepted.

"He got an invitation from one of the organizations of the Ahmadinejad government to go back and work for them," says Alemi. "So in a sense, they kind of lured him back and then arrested him."

She says most of Derakhshan's friends and family tried to convince him not to return to Iran.

"They all tried to stop him from going. Most of them said they told him, ‘Don't believe them; they're going to arrest you.' But he wanted to go back," she says.

Now, she says, those friends are working to secure Derakhshan's release. A number of petitions have emerged online and the hope now is that the Canadian government will put further pressure on Iran – a tactic that Alemi believes is effective.

"All this international pressure on the government of Iran certainly works. I really want everyone who cares about Hossein to sign the petition and put more pressure on the government of Iran to change his sentence," she said

Cannon's strongly worded statement suggests there will be further pressure.

"We will continue to press the Iranian authorities on Mr. Derakhshan's behalf and urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice," it read.