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Sunday, December 13, 2020

December 13, 2020
Ruhollah Zam

Iran on Saturday executed an exiled journalist over his online work that helped facilitate nationwide protests in 2017, a little more than a year after authorities tricked him into traveling to Iraq where he was abducted.

Ruhollah Zam, 47, was one of several opposition figures seized by Iranian operatives abroad in recent months.

Kidnapping and executing Zam, who lived in Paris under what Iran described as French government protection, likely will further chill Iranian relations across the West.

The execution drew immediate international condemnation.

Zam’s execution is “a deadly blow to freedom of expression in Iran and shows the extent of the Iranian authorities’ brutal tactics to instill fear and deter dissent,” Diana Eltahawy of Amnesty International said.

Iranian state television referred to Zam as “the leader of the riots” in announcing his execution by hanging early Saturday.

In June, a court sentenced Zam to death, saying he had been convicted of “corruption on Earth,” a charge often used in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran’s government.

Zam’s website AmadNews and a channel he created on the popular messaging app Telegram had spread information about the 2017 protests.

Those demonstrations, which began at the end of December 2017 and continued into 2018, represented the biggest challenge to Iran’s Shiite theocracy since 2009 protests and set the stage for similar unrest in November of last year.

The initial spark for the 2017 protests was a sudden jump in food prices.

Many believe that opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani instigated the first demonstrations in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran. But as protests spread from town to town, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class.

Soon, cries directly challenging Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be heard in online videos shared by Zam.

Telegram shut down the channel over Iranian government complaints that it spread information about how to make gasoline bombs. The channel later continued under a different name. Zam denied inciting violence on Telegram at the time.

The 2017 protests reportedly saw some 5,000 people detained and 25 killed.

Zam himself had fled Iran after the 2009 protests, heading first to Malaysia and then to France.

While Iranian authorities have never described how Iran’s Revolutionary Guard detained him, Amnesty said he was seized on a trip to neighboring Iraq.

France previously has criticized his death sentence as “a serious blow to freedom of expression and press freedom in Iran.”

Reporters Without Borders, a group that campaigns for press freedoms, said Zam’s execution was a “new crime of Iranian justice.”

Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists said Zam’s execution had seen “Iranian authorities join the company of criminal gangs and violent extremists who silence journalists by murdering them.”

“This is a monstrous and shameful act, and one which the international community must not let pass unnoticed,” Mansour said.

Iran is one of the world’s top executioners.

The European Union called on Iran to stop its executions and “cease the practice of using televised confessions to establish and promote their guilt.” Zam has been the subject of several state TV programs in which he gave apparently coerced confessions.

Zam was one of three opposition figures apparently detained in intelligence operations abroad.

In late July, a California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai, his family has said.

Iran also is believed to have seized the former head of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, a militant separatist group, while he was in Turkey. Iran has accused Farajollah Cha’ab of being behind a 2018 attack on a military parade that killed at least 25 people and wounded 70.

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