Pro-government media that attended the first hearing in his trial before a Tehran revolutionary court have published photos showing masked security agents in a nearly empty courtroom and a visibly tired Zam sitting opposite Aboulghasem Salevati, a judge widely regard as one of the worst “executioners” of Iranian journalists. There is no sign of a defence lawyer.
The 17 charges include two that are punishable by death. One is spying and the other is “spreading corruption on earth,” a term that comes from the Koranic expression “mofsed-e-fel'arz.” It implies that corruption pervades the defendant’s very soul and being and it is one of the most serious charges that can be brought before a revolutionary court.
According to Zam’s family, officials advised him: “Don’t make things worse for yourself by asking for a lawyer.” Prisoners of conscience, including journalists, are often told this during interrogation. Defendants are denied the most basic rights when tried before revolutionary courts, which even Iran’s official laws regard as illegal.
“Rouhollah Zam’s safety and life are threatened by this grossly unfair trial,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “We call on Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, Seong-Phil Hong, the head of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, to intervene quickly in this case.”
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 AmadNews also published information that was embarrassing for the regime and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the site had nearly 1.4 million subscribers during the big protests in December 2018.
Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.