Middle East

Iran executes dissident journalist for inspiring 2017 protests

Iran has executed a journalist over his role in inspiring nationwide economic protests in 2017, a year after the exile was captured by the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iranian state television and the state-run IRNA news agency said that Ruhollah Zam, 47, was hanged early on Saturday morning. The reports did not elaborate.

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 the timings of the protests and embarrassing information about officials that directly challenged Iran’s Shia theocracy.

Those demonstrations, which began at the end of 2017, represented the biggest challenge to Iran since the 2009 Green Movement protests and set the stage for similar mass unrest in November 2019.

The initial spark for the 2017 protests was a sudden jump in food prices. Many believe that hardline opponents of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, instigated the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, trying to direct public anger at the president.

But as protests spread from town to town, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class.

Soon, cries directly challenging Rouhani and even supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be heard in online videos shared by Zam. His channel also shared times and organisational details for the protests.

Telegram shut down the channel over Iranian government complaints it spread information about how to make petrol bombs. The channel later continued under a different name.

Zam, who said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram at the time. The 2017 protests reportedly saw some 5,000 people detained and 25 killed.

In October 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had trapped Zam, who had been given asylum in France and was based in Paris, in a “complex operation using intelligence deception.” It did not say where the operation took place.

Zam was one of several opposition figures in exile who have been returned to Iran over the last year.

France had criticised his death sentence as “a serious blow to freedom of expression and press freedom in Iran.”

Zam appeared in a series of televised confessions earlier this year, in which he apologised for his past activities.

During an interview in July, he said he had lost some 30 kilograms since his arrest.

Zam is the son of a reformist Shia cleric who once served in a government policy position in the early 1980s. Mohammad Ali Zam wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July 2017 in which he said he would not support his son over reporting by AmadNews and messages on its Telegram channel.

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