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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Execution of Iranian dissident condemned by EU, rights groups

Ruhollah Zam attends his trial at Iran's Revolutionary Court in Tehran in June 2020 [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 December, 2020

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Iran authorities' execution of dissident Ruhollah Zam was criticised by the European Union and rights groups.

The European Union and rights groups on Saturday denounced Iran's execution of Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and was implicated in anti-government protests.

State television said the "counter-revolutionary" Zam was hanged on Saturday morning after the supreme court upheld his sentence due to "the severity of the crimes" committed against the Islamic republic.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had on Tuesday said Zam's sentence was upheld by the supreme court "more than a month ago".

London-based human rights group Amnesty International, in a statement after his verdict was confirmed, described Zam as a "journalist and dissident". 

It said the confirmation marked "a shocking escalation in the use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression".

Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of Zam in October 2019, claiming he had been "directed by France's intelligence service".

State television said he was "under the protection of several countries' intelligence services".

The official IRNA news agency said he was also convicted of espionage for France and an unnamed country in the region, cooperating with the "hostile government of America", acting against "the country's security", insulting the "sanctity of Islam" and instigating violence during protests in 2017.

At least 25 people were killed during the unrest in December 2017 and January 2018 that was sparked by economic hardship.

Zam, who was granted political asylum in France and reportedly lived in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging app called Amadnews.

Telegram shut down the channel after Iran demanded it remove the account for inciting an "armed uprising".

'Corruption on earth'

Zam was charged with "corruption on earth" - one of the most serious offences under Iranian law - and sentenced to death in June.

As his trial started, state television broadcast a "documentary" about Zam's "relations" with the Islamic republic's foes.

The broadcaster also aired an "interview" with him in July, in which he is seen saying he believed in reformism until he was detained in 2009 during protests against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He also denied having instigated violence through his Telegram channel.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of "confessions" by suspects, saying they "violate the defendants' rights".

On Saturday, the rights group called his execution a "deadly blow" to freedom of expression.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East, said she was "shocked and horrified" at his death, adding that the organisation believed it was "a reprehensible bid to avoid an international campaign to save his life".

The European Union condemned Zam's execution "in the strongest terms", a statement from the EU External Action Service said, reiterating the bloc's "irrevocable opposition to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances".

"It is also imperative for the Iranian authorities to uphold the due process rights of accused individuals and to cease the practice of using televised confessions to establish and promote their guilt," the statement added.

'Outraged'

Zam had lived in exile in France for several years before being arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guards under unclear circumstances.

Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was "outraged" by the execution.

RSF had previously claimed that Zam had disappeared on a trip to Baghdad in October 2019, and accused Iran of abducting him in Iraq to face trial back home.

Zam is one of several people to have been sentenced to death over participation or links to protests that rocked Iran between 2017 and 2019.

Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestler, was executed at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz in September.

The judiciary said he had been found guilty of "voluntary homicide" for stabbing to death a government employee in August 2018.

Shiraz and other urban centres had been the scene of anti-government protests at the time.

Three young men were also sentenced to death over links to deadly 2019 protests, but Iran's supreme court said last week that it would retry them at the request of their defence teams.

Their sentences were initially upheld, with the judiciary saying evidence had been found on their phones of them setting alight banks, buses and public buildings.

Amnesty International said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world's second highest total after China.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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