Iran top court upholds dissident journalist’s death sentence

Ruhollah Zam was convicted for fuelling anti-government unrest in 2017 on social media.

Ruhollah Zam
In this June 2, 2020 photo, journalist Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial at the Revolutionary Court, in Tehran [File: Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency via AP Photo]

Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence against dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam for fuelling anti-government unrest in 2017 on social media, a judiciary spokesman said.

“Yes, the Supreme Court … has upheld the sentence passed by the Revolutionary Court in this case,” spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told a news conference streamed live on a judiciary website on Tuesday.

Esmaeili said the court had considered and approved Zam’s sentence “more than one month ago”.

Zam was arrested in Iraq in October 2019. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said at the time he was apprehended following a “complicated operation”.

Zam, who was based in France, ran a news channel called Amad News in the messaging app Telegram that is very popular in Iran and still used by tens of millions despite being blocked by the authorities.

Earlier this year, a revolutionary court had found him guilty of the “corruption on earth” charge that carries the death penalty.

In July, Zam participated in an interview with a state broadcast journalist, a move that observers outside Iran said was an instance of forced confession.

In the same month, Zam’s father, Iran-based cleric Mohammadali Zam, wrote a letter to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi to contest his son’s sentence, saying it was “against Islamic justice”.

Zam was accused of working with French and Israeli intelligence against Iran and trying to destabilise Iran through inciting violence in the 2017 protests that erupted in dozens of cities across Iran and led to at least 30 casualties.

In court, Zam rejected most of the allegations leveled against him, saying he was only engaged in “media work”. He denied that he was party to encouraging violence, destruction of public property and economic disruption.

The 2017 protests were the largest since the 2009 Green Movement protests that jolted the country following the controversial reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The protests began after sudden jump in food prices triggered the first demonstrations in Mashhad. But protests quickly spread from town to town and the initial backlash that was aimed at the government of President Hassan Rouhani turned against the entire establishment.

At the time, Zam’s Telegram channel frequently shared timed schedules for protests across Iran and detailed how they went down. It also regularly published videos from the protests, in which the slogans condemned Rouhani and even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

After numerous complaints by the Iranian government, Telegram shut down Amad News over inciting violence, citing instructions that were shared on the account for the creation of Molotov cocktails and encouragement of their use.

On the same day in 2017, Zam created another channel, Sedaiemardom, which amassed an even larger following of more than 212,000 subscribers. This channel remained active until Zam’s arrest and can still be accessed on Telegram.

In a reaction to Al Jazeera, Telegram Messenger said it “has never yielded to pressure from officials who wanted us to perform political censorship. As a result of hosting opposition channels, Telegram is blocked in Iran”.

Iran has since seen its largest mass unrest in November 2019 that erupted over economic woes and also turned violent, leading to 230 deaths according to Iranian officials.

Additional reporting by Maziar Motamedi in Tehran, Iran.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies