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Captured Iran Dissident Denies Charges Punishable By Death

Rouhollah Zam who was captured by Iranian intelligence last year, facing a hardliner judge during his trial in Tehran. February 10, 2020

In the second hearing of his trial, a controversial Iranian activist and publicist captured last year by the Islamic republic’s intelligence has denied all charges leveled against him.

Rouhollah Zam is on trial facing seventeen charges, including "spying for the Israeli intelligence service through the spy service of one of the regional countries", "spying for the French intelligence service", "cooperating with the hostile government of the United States against Iran." All these charges are punishable by death under the Islamic Republic law.

Zam, 46, was the owner of AmadNews (Persian acronym for Awareness, Combat, and Democracy), later renamed Sedaye Mardom (Voice of the People.) He had been a vociferous critic of Iranian regime for the past several years with millions of followers on social media, often spreading information about corruption by officials. His trial, by a notorious hardliner judge, Abol-Qassem Salavati, held its first session on February 10.

During the second session of the trial, Judge Salavati demanded Zam to elaborate on his responsibility concerning the anti-Islamic Republic protests in late December 2017-early January 2018 that spread to more than 100 cities across Iran.

"The protests have got nothing to do with me," Zam curtly replied.

In the heat of the uprising against the clergy-dominated regime, the Islamic Republic authorities had accused Paris-based Zam of fomenting unrest against the establishment through online postings. The protests were brutally suppressed and left more than thirty dead.

Pressed by the Judge, Zam said that he had temporarily severed online activities days before the unrest and resumed it months after the protests.

Responding to another charge of "cooperating with the hostile government of the United States against Iran," Zam insisted that the U.S. does not constitute a "hostile" government.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' fearsome Intelligence Organization boasted on October 14 that it had detained Zam through "an elaborate" scheme. Later, the daily Le Figaro quoted French officials as saying Zam had flown to Iraq. The paper also quoted sources as saying Iranian agents had convinced Zam that Iraq's influential Shi'ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was ready to grant him an audience.

These reports indicated Zam might have been abducted in Iraq and taken to Iran.

In a statement on February 14, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was extremely concerned about AmadNews website editor Rouhollah Zam's trial.

"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 Abol-Qassem Salavati, a judge widely regarded as one of the worst ‘executioners' of Iranian journalists. There was no sign of a defense lawyer," RSF noted in its statement.