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Iran executes blogger who inspired protests

December 12, 2020

Authorities say journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was convicted of fomenting violence during the anti-government protests, has been executed. Human rights groups have expressed outrage at his death.

Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam
Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial at a court in TehranImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Shirband

Iranian authorities on Saturday morning executed once-exiled dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam over his online work that helped inspire nationwide anti-government protests in the Middle East nation in 2017.   

The execution took place just months after he returned to Tehran under mysterious circumstances.

In June, a court sentenced 47-year-old 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.

Iran's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence.

'Serious blow to press freedom'

Zam's website AmadNews and a channel he created on the popular messaging app Telegram had spread the timings of the mass protests and embarrassing information about officials that directly challenged Iran's Shiite 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 of last year.

Eric Randolph (AFP) from Tehran

The initial spark for the 2017 protests was a sudden jump in food prices, but they later morphed into broad demonstrations against the nation's ruling class.

Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram at the time.

The details of his arrest still remain unclear. Though he was based in Paris, Zam somehow returned to Iran and found himself detained by intelligence officials. He's one of several opposition figures in exile who have been returned to Iran over the last year.

Outrage at execution

France slammed the hanging of the Paris-based journalist, which it called "barbaric and unacceptable."

The French foreign ministry said in a statement: "France condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious breach of free expression and press freedom in Iran. This is a barbaric and unacceptable act that goes against the country's international commitments."

The EU on Saturday condemned in the "strongest terms" Zam's execution, recalling "its irrevocable opposition to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances," according to a statement from the EU's External Action Service.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounce Zam's execution.

"RSF is outraged at this new crime of Iranian justice," the organization tweeted, adding it had warned United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet in October that the death sentence was likely.

France previously criticized his death sentence as "a serious blow to freedom of expression and press freedom in Iran.''

Iran upholds death sentences

sri/mm (AP, Reuters)