PARIS (AFP) – A year after dissident Ruhollah Zam was executed in Iran after apparently lured out of France, his beating fears the Iranian opposition in exile beyond the reach of the Islamic Republic.
Zam, the founder of a popular Telegram channel despised by the Iranian authorities for his use in the November 2019 protests, was arrested on December 12th last year just weeks after leaving France, where he had refugee status executed on a mysterious trip to Iraq.
Colleagues say he was kidnapped by Iranian troops in Iraq, taken across the border, televised, forced to make a televised “confession”, sentenced and then hanged at astonishing speed.
Activists argue that his kidnapping and assassination are part of a long history of retaliation by Iran against opponents living outside its borders, dating back to the first months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Friends of Zam remain amazed at how a man described as passionate about his job and devoted to his daughter has chosen the risky trip to Iraq, a country with a large Iranian presence, and France’s responses to events required.
Sepideh Pooraghaiee, an Iranian journalist living in exile in France who was friends with Zam, told AFP that âmany things are not clear. We don’t know anything. “
“We’re calling for justice for a murdered journalist and we’re working to keep his memory intact.”
United For Zam, a group of friends and activists founded to keep his memory alive, said the French government had to “clear up any ambiguity” about Zam’s kidnapping in Iraq.
Echoing the activists’ frustration that human rights are not part of the talks over the Iranian nuclear crisis, they called on France to “make negotiations with the Islamic Republic conditional on the cessation of killings and the brutal repression of political dissidents”.
“Considerably increasing risk”
Activists accuse Iran of killing and kidnapping hundreds of opponents in the four decades since the overthrow of the Shah’s royalist government.
One of the most notorious was the stabbing of the Shah’s last Prime Minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, and his secretary outside Paris in August 1991.
An Iranian, Ali Vakili Rad, was found guilty of murder but was paroled by France in 2010 and returned to Iran, where he was received as a hero.
The murder of four Iranian Kurdish activists in September 1992 in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin led to a German arrest warrant for the Iranian secret service minister and to a crisis in relations between Iran and the West.
“The kidnapping and subsequent assassination of Ruhollah Zam fits into a decade-long pattern of intimidation, extrajudicial executions and kidnapping of dissidents by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Roya Boroumand, executive director of the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center.
The center has counted more than 540 Iranians whose successful murder or kidnapping has been attributed to Iran, peaking in the 1990s with more than 397 deaths, including 329 in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Boroumand said these activities “subsided” following the international backlash following the Mykonos fall.
But a growing number of cases “indicate a seriously increasing risk” for Iranian dissidents abroad.
She combined this with the growing number of web-based channels abroad that have had an impact in Iran – such as Zams Amadnews – particularly at events like the 2019 protests.
“No normal life”
Zam is by no means the only international kidnapping accused of Iran in recent times.
In July 2020, the German-Iranian citizen Jamshid Sharmahd disappeared on his way to India in Dubai. His family say he was abducted, brought to Iran via Oman, and then tried in 2008 for an explosion.
âWe don’t know exactly where it is. We do not know if he is being held in decent conditions, âhis family said in a statement, adding that they wereâ shocked âwhen he was shown blindfolded and puffy on Iranian television.
In July of this year, US prosecutors indicted four Iranians in absentia over a plan to kidnap New York dissident Masih Alinejad in a speedboat and bring him to Tehran’s ally Venezuela.
Alinejad, who has campaigned heavily against the compulsory hijab in Iran, is now part of a bipartisan US Senate seeking legislation to sanction those behind such attempts.
Alinejad now lives in a safe house after the conspiracy was foiled: âEven here in America, I don’t have a normal life. I am not a criminal. My crime is only to give the voiceless demonstrators in Iran a voice. “