Iran abducts Paris-based Iranian opposition news provider
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Iran’s abduction of Ruhollah Zam, an opponent of the Islamic regime who operated a news channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram from France, where he has been a political refugee since 2011. Zam appears to have been kidnapped while on a trip to Baghdad last weekend.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced on 14 October that the “counter-revolutionary” Zam had been arrested in a “complex and professional operation.”
A video broadcast on Iranian state TV on the evening of 14 October showed a handcuffed and blindfolded Zam getting into car, and then sitting in a chair beside an Iranian flag and a Revolutionary Guard flag, saying: “I regret my statements and everything I have done in recent years (...) including having trusted foreign governments, especially France.”
Zam’s Telegram news channel AmadNews, which he ran from Paris and which published confidential information about corruption involving government officials, had become a leading target of government attacks and threats since a wave of anti-government protests in Iran in the winter of 2017-2018.
At the height of these protests in December 2017, Telegram agreed to shut down AmadNews at the request of the Iranian government, which accused it of inciting violence. It had 1.4 million followers at the time.
The news channel quick resumed operating on Telegram under the new name of “Sedaie Mardom” (Voice of the People). This time, Telegram owner Pavel Durov refused to close it down, arguing that it was calling for “peaceful protests.” The Iranian judicial authorities responded on 30 April 2018 by ordering the blocking of Telegram throughout the country.
Zam is a controversial figure who, according to some sources, was manipulated on several occasions by the Iranian intelligence services into publishing false information. But his wife, Mahsa Razani, insists that he would not have returned to Iran of his own free will. She said he set off for Baghdad on the evening of 11 October on a Royal Jordanian flight and arrived the following morning after a stopover in Amman.
She told the exile media outlet IranWire that she did not hear from him for 24 hours and that, when he did call, “he sounded strange and not like himself.” Referring to the Iranian regime’s announcement the next day that he had been arrested, Razani said: “My husband was kidnapped from Iraq, and I beg the French government, where we sought protection, to help us.”
In response to a question at a news conference yesterday, the French foreign ministry said that, while having no precise information about the circumstances of Zam’s arrest “outside France,” it condemned his detention on the grounds of France’s commitment to “respect for the rule of law and, in particular, freedom of expression and the right of asylum.”
“The arrest of the head of this Telegram news channel was an abduction that was meticulously prepared and organized by the Iranian regime,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk, who also condemned the Islamic Republic’s use of mistreatment to extract confessions.
Moini added: “The inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners of conscience, including journalists and citizen-journalists, constitutes a flagrant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.”
Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.