Ruhollah Zam was convicted for fuelling anti-government unrest in 2017 on social media.
The United Nations human rights chief voiced outrage at Iran’s weekend execution of an opposition figure who was hanged and urged Tehran to halt its “alarming and increasing” use of the death penalty.
“I am appalled at the execution in Iran on 12 December of Ruhollah Zam,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday.
“His death sentence and execution by hanging are emblematic of a pattern of forced confessions extracted under torture and broadcast on state media being used as a basis to convict people.”
Zam was hanged on Saturday after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence passed in June over his role in protests during the winter of 2017-18, among other charges.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday defended Zam’s execution, saying the death sentence passed was carried out lawfully.
European countries “have the right to comment, but Zam was executed upon a court’s ruling”, Rouhani told a televised news conference, noting the judiciary was independent.
“I think it’s unlikely that this will hurt Iran-Europe relations.”
‘Captured’ in Iraq
The dissident ran a Telegram channel widely followed during the demonstrations. His Amadnews social media feed had more than one million followers.
He had lived in Paris for several years after being given refugee status and residency in France.
But activists say he was held after travelling to Iraq from Paris in October 2019 in circumstances that remain unclear, with some campaigners accusing Tehran of abducting him.
A news agency close to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said last week he was captured while in Iraq.
In her statement, Bachelet also highlighted “serious concerns that the apprehension of Zam outside the territory of Iran could amount to an abduction and that his subsequent transfer to Iran for trial may not have respected due process guarantees”.
She stressed that Zam was among many activists and protesters in Iran who have been “sentenced to long prison terms or given the death penalty for exercising their human rights after trials that failed to comply with international standards regarding due process”.
“These constitute serious violations of Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to life,” she said.
Bachelet urged Iranian authorities to “immediately halt their alarming and increasing use of the death penalty and vague national security charges to suppress independent voices and dissent in Iran”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday denounced the execution as “barbaric”.
“The US strongly condemns Iran’s unjust, barbaric execution of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist kidnapped abroad by the regime,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
The U.S. strongly condemns Iran’s unjust, barbaric execution of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist kidnapped abroad by the regime. Zam exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime, which has killed or arrested more than 860 journalists in its 41-year reign of terror.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 14, 2020
France also called Zam’s execution “barbaric and unacceptable” on Saturday.
Iran’s foreign ministry summoned envoys from France and Germany, the current holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, to protest over criticism of the execution, Iranian media reported on Sunday.
Bachelet also called on Tehran to “immediately free all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights”.
The UN rights chief said she was opposed to the death penalty in all cases, insisting it was “simply irreconcilable with human dignity, is too often arbitrary in its application and errors can never be made good again”.
If countries insist on using the penalty, she stressed under international law it can only be applied for the most serious crimes, and only after a fair trial and access to appeal and the right to seek clemency.
These, she said, are “cumulative conditions clearly not met in Ruhollah Zam’s case”.