Iran Executes Dissident Accused of Stoking Protests
Iran executed a dissident on Saturday after condemning him for encouraging a wave of anti-government protests in 2017 through an opposition telegram channel it operated from exile in France, Iranian news agencies reported.
Ruhollah Zam ran Amad News, a popular channel on Telegram news platform, through which he published logistical details about the protests that rocked Iran in late 2017. His contributions included videos of protesters helping to get the news of the uprising at a time when the country was trying to suppress information.
He had been in exile in France since 2011 and lived there until 2019 when he flew to Iraq and was later captured by the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was hanged after being convicted in June of the crime of “Corruption on Earth”, which is often used to describe attempts to overthrow the Iranian government.
The press advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, condemned Iran for hanging Mr. Zam.
The group said on Twitter that it “is outraged by this new crime by the Iranian judiciary and sees @ali_khamenei as the mastermind behind this execution,” referring to Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The French Foreign Ministry also condemned the execution in a statement calling it a “barbaric and unacceptable act” that undermined freedom of expression and the press in Iran.
Amad News attracted more than a million subscribers, but in December 2017 Telegram closed the program after Iranian authorities argued that it sparked violence by encouraging protesters to use Molotov cocktails. Mr. Zam quickly created a new channel. Its channels also harassed journalists, academics and analysts who they believed were not working to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Iran has long sought to silence opponents at home and abroad, arrest dissidents overseas, block messaging apps to suppress dissatisfaction, and use brutal violence against its own people, killing hundreds of thousands last year Protesters led during widespread civil unrest in the country.
How Mr. Zam came into the hands of the Revolutionary Guards remains a mystery.
According to Reza Moini, the head of the Iranian-Afghan office at Reporters Without Borders, Mr. Zam, who was a controversial but well-known figure in Iran and the country’s diaspora, had been looking for means to create a television channel.
He was lured into the trip to Iraq, where he hoped to meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric with close ties to Iran and rival of Mr. Khamenei, to discuss funding for his media venture. according to Mr. Moini.
Mr. Moini said earlier this year that Mr. Zam had released information harmful to Mr. Khamenei and that he was desperate for money. He was under police protection until he left France for Baghdad in October 2019 and not long afterwards disappeared in Iraq. The Revolutionary Guard Corps said they captured him but did not say where.
Ruhollah Zam was the son of a high-ranking and well-known clergyman, Mohamad Ali Zam, the former head of a state propaganda agency. He was born the same year as the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the monarchy in Iran, and he was named after the revolution’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Mr Zam went into exile after being arrested in 2009 amid protests that rocked Iran following a controversial presidential election. He left Iran for Malaysia and then France, where he was granted political asylum.
On the Saturday after the news of Mr. Zam’s execution, his father released a statement on him Instagram account. The elderly Mr. Zam said prison officials called the family to visit his son on Friday, the day before he was hanged, but did not tell the family that they would be performing the execution.
The elderly Mr. Zam said the officials ordered the family not to inform his son that an appeals court upheld his death sentence. The family prayed and cried together, the statement said. Mr Zam said his son told him that he had learned from the interrogators that he would be exchanged in a prisoner swap and that the self-incriminating confessions he had to make on video were for the show.
The 2017 protests, made famous by the younger Mr Zam, were sparked by a rise in food prices, but quickly turned into a nationwide uprising against Iranian rulers, one of the greatest challenges authorities have faced since the Green Movement protests Year 2009 faced.
Security forces cracked down on the protests by arresting thousands of protesters and dozens of others were killed. New protests last year, this time triggered by a surge in gas prices, became the deadliest civil unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. At least 304 people were killed during the uprising, according to Amnesty International.
Elian Peltier reported from London and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.