Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Iran on Saturday executed a formerly exiled journalist for his online work which helped inspire nationwide economic protests in 2017, authorities said, just months after returning to Tehran under mysterious circumstances.
Iranian state television and the official IRNA news agency said Ruhollah Zam, 47, was hanged early Saturday morning. Reports are not developed.
In June, a court sentenced Zam to death, saying he had been convicted of “corruption on Earth,” a charge often used in cases of espionage or attempting to overthrow the Iranian government.
Zam’s website, AmadNews, and a channel he created on the popular Telegram messaging app had broadcast schedules of protests and embarrassing information about officials who directly challenged Iran’s Shia theocracy.
The protests, which began at the end of 2017, presented the biggest challenge for Iranian leaders since the Green Movement protests of 2009 and set the stage for similar mass unrest in November last year.
The initial spark of the 2017 protests was a sudden rise in food prices. Many believe that diehard opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sparked the first protests in the conservative city of Mashhad in northeast Iran, trying to direct public anger against the president. But as the protests spread from city to city, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class.
Soon, cries directly defying Rouhani and even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be heard in online videos shared by Zam. Zam’s channel also shared the schedules and organizational details of the protests.
Telegram shut down the channel following complaints from the Iranian government that it was broadcasting information about the making of gasoline bombs. The channel then continued under a different name. Zam, who said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram at the time.
The 2017 protests reportedly saw some 5,000 people arrested and 25 killed.
The details of his arrest are still unclear. Despite being based in Paris, Zam returned to Iran and found himself detained by intelligence officials. He is one of many opposition figures in exile who have been returned to Iran over the past year.
France had previously criticized his death sentence as “a blow to freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Iran”.
Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom group, said Zam’s hanging was a “new crime against Iranian justice.”
A series of televised confessions aired earlier this year on his work.
During an interview in July, Zam said he had lost about 30 kilograms (66 pounds) since his arrest in October 2019. He said following the arrest that he could meet his father after nine years and his mother and sister after about six years.
Zam is the son of Shiite cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, a reformist who held a government policy post in the early 1980s. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July 2017 in which he said he did not would not support his son for the reports and messages from AmadNews on his Telegram channel.
Zam’s father posted on his Instagram account on Saturday that Iranian authorities had not informed his son that he had been sentenced to execution.