Iran has executed Ruhollah Zam, a dissident who allegedly sought regime change in Tehran and spied for Israel and France, underlining the Islamic republic’s stance to show no mercy towards political opposition.
Zam, who was held in jail since his capture in October last year, was hanged after being charged with a long list of crimes that included “co-operation with the hostile state of the US”, provoking unrest in order to disrupt the country’s security and insulting its top leaders.
Zam, who was 43 years old, made a confession on state television, but the trial was conducted behind closed doors.
Amnesty International called the sentence a shocking escalation in the use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression. “His execution is a deadly blow to freedom of expression in Iran and shows the extent of the Iranian authorities’ brutal tactics to instil fear and deter dissent,” Amnesty said.
The Iranian allegations centre on the Amadnews channel, a popular anti-government forum on the Telegram messaging app that Zam ran. He used it to play a significant role in unrest three years ago which was at the time the most widespread against the Islamic republic and its economic policies.
Zam taught protesters how to make Molotov cocktails and use them against security forces. He also made allegations of high-level corruption and affairs.
He operated the platform from Turkey and later in France, where he had residence, and enjoyed protection from the security forces.
Zam was lured into Iraq by Iran’s intelligence services in October last year, arrested and brought to Iran.
Western diplomats in Tehran say it was not clear how Iranian intelligence services managed to convince him to travel to Iraq when he would have been conscious of the risks posed by Iran’s strong presence in the country.
Zam’s family and friends said he had been offered money in Iraq to launch a television channel and expand his opposition activities.
Iran makes no secret of the fact that it will pursue opposition figures wherever they are in the world.
The Intelligence Ministry said last month that a separatist leader, Farajollah Cha’ab, had been detained and brought back to Iran. He is accused of leading a 2018 terrorist attack in southwestern Iran — home to ethnic Arabs — targeting a military parade in which 25 soldiers and civilians were shot dead.
Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German national is suspected to have been detained in a neighbouring country and brought to Iran earlier this year. He is accused of a deadly attack on a mosque in 2008 that killed 14 people.
The Islamic republic has said it will exercise tolerance towards ordinary people who protest against their economic situation but not those who provoke unrest to overthrow the regime with the help of foreign governments.
Iranian analysts say the Islamic republic is trying to address some international criticism of its human rights record. Iran has one of the world’s highest execution rates.
Around 40,000 prisoners have been released or had their sentences reduced in the past two years, but these were mostly people convicted of crimes such as drug trafficking, not the leaders of anti-regime protests.
Zam was the son of Mohammad Ali Zam, a former reformist cultural official and a cleric. The two met on Friday, hours before the execution, on the condition that his father was not allowed to reveal that the death sentence had been approved.