Iran Executes Dissident Accused of Stoking Protests


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Iran Executes Dissident Accused of Stoking Protests

Ruhollah Zam had been convicted of encouraging an antigovernment uprising in 2017 through a Telegram channel he ran from exile in France.

Credit…Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

  • Dec. 12, 2020Updated 3:50 p.m. ET

Iran executed a dissident on Saturday after convicting him of encouraging a wave of antigovernment protests in 2017 through an opposition Telegram channel he ran from exile in France, Iranian news outlets reported.

Ruhollah Zam ran Amad News, a popular channel on the messaging platform Telegram, which he used to sharelogistical details about the protests that rocked Iran in late 2017. His posts included protesters’ videos that helped publicize the news of the uprising at a time when the country was trying to suppress information.

He had been in exile in France since 2011 and lived there until 2019, when he flew to Iraq and was later captured by the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. He was hanged after being convicted in June of the crime “corruption on earth,” which is often used to describe attempts to overthrow the Iranian government.

The press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders condemned Iran for hanging Mr. Zam.

The group said on Twitter that it was “outraged at this new crime of Iranian justice and sees @ali_khamenei as the mastermind of this execution,” referring to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

France’s foreign ministry also condemned the execution in a statement, calling it “a barbaric and unacceptable act” that undermined freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Iran.

Iran has long sought to silence opponents at home and abroad, detaining dissidents in foreign countries, blocking messaging apps to quell discontent and using brutal force against its own population, which last year resulted in the deaths of hundreds of protesters during widespread unrest in the country.

How Mr. Zam ended up in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards remains a mystery.

A divisive yet well-known figure in Iran and in the country’s diaspora, Mr. Zam had been looking for funds to create a television channel, according to Reza Moini, the head of the Iran-Afghanistan desk at Reporters Without Borders.

He was lured into taking the trip to Iraq, where he was hoping to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric with close ties to Iran and a rival of Mr. Khamenei, to discuss financing for his media venture, according to Mr. Moini.

Mr. Moini said earlier this year that Mr. Zam had published information damaging to Mr. Khamenei and he was desperately looking for funds. He was under police protection until he left France in October 2019 for Baghdad, and disappeared in Iraq not long after. The Revolutionary Guard Corps said it had captured him but didn’t say where.

The 2017 protests were triggered by a jump in food prices but quickly turned into a nationwide uprising against Iran’s rulers, one of the biggest challenges the authorities faced since the Green Movement protests in 2009.

Amad News drew more than a million subscribers but in December 2017, Telegram shut it down after the Iranian authorities argued that it incited violence by encouraging protesters to use Molotov cocktails. Mr. Zam quickly created a new one.

Security forces cracked down on the protests by arresting thousands of demonstrators, and dozens of others were killed. New protests last year, this time triggered by a jump in gas prices, turned into the deadliest unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. According to Amnesty International, at least 304 people were killed during the uprising.

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