Human Rights

International outrage after Iran's 'barbaric' execution of dissident Rouhollah Zam

By Al-Mashareq

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Rouhollah Zam, an Iranian regime dissident, is seen in a court session in February. Zam was hanged Saturday (December 12th), only four days after his final sentence. [Photo via YJC.ir]

On Saturday (December 12th), the Islamic Republic of Iran hanged Rouhollah Zam, 47, after having charged him of "corruption on earth" and sentencing him to death in June.

Aside from his parents, Zam leaves behind a 16-year-old daughter from his first marriage and a five year-old daughter from his second marriage, who both live in France with his wife.

While the death sentence was upheld in Iran's Supreme Court after Zam appealed, his hanging was rather abrupt and only four days after the final sentence.

The Islamic Republic has multiple high-profile corruption prisoners, formerly officials or close to regime officials, who have been sentenced to death years ago, but have yet to be executed.

The regime has a history of rapidly charging political activists accused of "attempting to overthrow the regime" after slapping on the "corruption on earth" charge, a Qur'anic reference used since the 1979 Islamic Revolution for justifying killing political prisoners.

It is similarly used for espionage charges, although not all cases of espionage have resulted in the death penalty.

A similarly quick death sentence was carried out for Navid Afkari, a well-known wrestler who was hanged on similar charges on September 12th. He was charged with killing a security guard amid 2018 protests.

Zam was also convicted of inciting violence in the 2017 anti-regime protests.

International response

On the heels of Zam's execution, four members of the European Union boycotted a three-day economic forum with Iran scheduled to start Monday. France, Germany, Italy and Austria announced they would not participate in the forum.

"The organising committee of the Europe-Iran Business Forum has decided to take the exceptional step of postponing the conference," the organisers said in a statement late Sunday.

France's foreign ministry issued a statement, saying that it "condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious breach of free expression and press freedom in Iran".

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was "appalled" by the execution, adding that there are "serious concerns" that Zam's capture outside of Iran "could amount to an abduction".

After Iranian state TV broadcast what it billed as an "interview" with Zam while detained in July, Bachelet also said his sentence was "emblematic of a pattern of forced confessions extracted under torture and broadcast on state media being used as a basis to convict people".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the US strongly condemned Iran's "unjust, barbaric" execution.

The German foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday it was shocked by the circumstances surrounding Zam's conviction "particularly by the... kidnapping from abroad".

In a statement, the EU said it condemned Zam's execution in the "strongest terms" and that it remained opposed to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances.

Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday summoned Germany and France's envoys to protest the EU condemnation, saying it was "an unacceptable interference in Iran's domestic affairs".

The next day, President Hassan Rouhani said the decision to execute Zam was made by Iran's judiciary, not the executive branch, and expressed surprise at what he described as the EU's "sensitivity" towards the development.

Child of the revolution

Born just a few years before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Rouhollah Zam was a true child of the revolution, and as he once said in an interview, a product of the Islamic Republic.

His father, Mohammad-Ali Zam, is a revolutionary cleric who named him Rouhollah after Rouhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

A confidante of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Mohammad-Ali Zam was in the regime's inner circle until 2001, when he fell out of favour with hardliners.

Rouhollah Zam was a member of the inner circle of former reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, and active in his 2009 presidential campaign. He left Iran, legally and with his own passport, in 2011, first for Malaysia, then Turkey, and finally France, where he was granted asylum, an allowance and bodyguards.

Zam himself had claimed he was granted the second-highest level of security (after French president Emmanuel Macron) in France.

In France, he founded the website Amad News and co-ordinated a related Telegram channel, both of which helped spread information during multiple anti-regime protests in 2017 and 2018.

Information about rifts within the regime, leaked content of government meetings, protests' logistics, and tutorials on crafting gasoline bombs and molotov cocktails were among the content Amad News published.

Amad News was shut down by Telegram after the Islamic Republic reported the tutorials as inciting violence to Telegram officials. Soon after, Sedaye Mardom replaced Amad News on Telegram.

In 2017, Mohammad-Ali Zam wrote an open letter to his son, asking him to "change his ways and return to Iran".

Zam was lured to travel to Iraq some 14 months ago, reportedly based on promises of a visit with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He was detained by Iraqi police in Baghdad airport and handed over to Iranian authorities.

He was kept in solitary confinement, interrogated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and forced to "confess" to his wrongdoings in front of a television camera.

As is customary in Iran, the confession was produced in form of an interview, and Zam opposed the interviewer's remarks or accusations in several instances.

Mohammad-Ali Zam has said his son was not notified of his imminent execution during the visit he was allowed to have with his family one day prior to his hanging.

Domestic media have quoted "an informed judicial source" who has denied this, but if true, it would be a violation of Iran's constitution, based on which the prisoner should be notified of his execution at least 48 hours prior to it.

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Making a Molotov cocktail is not something that requires training. It is something that even I know how to make it. The same goes for a gasoline bomb. Regarding the thefts done by the Islamic Republic, the thefts by the IRGC and the Islamic Republic are obvious phenomena. This Islamic Republic is being hit from the outside. Therefore, they resort to such shows in order to divert attention and display their authority – which it no longer possesses. The Islamic Republic has become insecure, no longer having any authority or support in the region. The same is also true inside the country. If the foreign powers continue to their maximum pressure for another year, the Islamic Republic will be destroyed in the region and inside. These shows are just to cover the Islamic Republic's weaknesses. There are also some doubts in the matter of Zam's execution. First, he is the son of a member of the regime. Secondly, there is no transparency in the Islamic Republic. In all probability, they published the news on his execution, without actually executing him. Anything is possible when it comes to such dictatorships as the Islamic Republic, especially now that they are in a status of complete weakness.

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I wonder as to what you have to say about the dismemberment of the journalist Khashoggi? The international community kept silent about that horrific act; Silence of the Lambs! Do you have anything else to say? Yeah?

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