Iran executes dissident journalist who inspired protests from 2017: state media

Iran on Saturday executed a once exiled journalist over its online work that helped inspire nationwide economic protests in 2017, authorities said, just months after he returned to Tehran under mysterious circumstances.

Iranian state television and the state IRNA news agency said that Ruhollah Zam, 47, was hanged early on Saturday morning. The reports were not prepared.

In June, a court sentenced Zam to death, saying he had been convicted of “corruption on earth”, a charge often used in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow the Iranian government.

Zam’s website AmadNews and a channel he created in the popular telegram program Telegram had spread the protests and embarrassing information about officials who directly challenged Iran’s Shiite democracy.

The demonstrations, which began in late 2017, represented the biggest challenge for Iran since the 2009 Green Movement protests and set the stage for similar mass riots in November last year.

Counter-reaction to the ruling class

The first spark of the 2017 protests was a sudden jump in food prices. Many believe that fierce opposition to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sparked the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran and sought to direct public anger at the president. But as protests spread from city to city, the backlash turned against the ruling class.

Soon, cries of directly challenging Rouhani and even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can be heard in online videos shared by Zam. Zam’s channel also shared times and organizational details for the protests.

Telegram closed the channel over the Iranian government’s complaints, spreading information on how to make petrol bombs. The channel later continued under another name. Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied the call for violence against Telegram at the time.

During the 2017 protests, about 5,000 people were reportedly imprisoned and 25 killed.

The details of his arrest are still unclear. Although based in Paris, Zam somehow returned to Iran and was detained by intelligence officials. He is one of several opposition figures in exile who have been returned to Iran in the past year.

France has previously criticized its death sentence as “a serious blow to freedom of expression and the press in Iran.”

A series of TV confessions were broadcast earlier this year over his work.

During an interview in July, Zam said that he has lost about 30 kilos since he was arrested in October 2019. He said after 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 the Shiite priest Mohammad Ali Zam, a reformist who once served in a government policy position in the early 1980s. The priest wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July 2017 in which he said that he would not support his son over AmadNews reporting and messages on his Telegram channel.