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Media Activist Ruhollah Zam Hanged

Dissident Iranian journalist Rouhollah Zam was hanged in Iran and his daughter.
Dissident Iranian journalist Rouhollah Zam was hanged in Iran and his daughter.

Ruhollah Zam, the Iranian media figure who established the AMAD Telegram channel, was allegedly hanged in Iran on Saturday, per the IRIB state media channel.

The AMAD Telegram channel became one of the most popular Iranian social networks between 2016 and 2017, circulating behind-the-scenes news around the country.

Ruhollah Zam established AMAD in 2015, named for the Persian acronym for "awareness, combat, and democracy). Zam said that the Telegram channel's aim was fighting and exposing the Iranian government's corruption and secret activities, claiming that the channel could disclose highly confidential news related to the ruling system's most clandestine parts. After publishing classified images and documents, the channel not only attracted millions of followers, and successfully humiliated Iran's intelligence services, but also turned into a news source for many Persian speakers outside Iran.

The abduction and execution of Ruhollah Zam was seemingly the revenge for that humiliation.

By executing a media activist, the Iranian establishment seems to send a message to opponents of the regime, who in recent years have gained more power and role in the media than a decade ago. The message is short, sharp, and crystal clear, that the regime has changed the rules of the game, and, from now on, whoever dares to fight them will be punished by death, not imprisonment.

This maximalist approach reflects Iranian officials' fear of the increasing influence of social networks, with the regime once again seeking out its oldest tool to address threats, execution and elimination.

The abduction and execution of Zam is seemingly another manifestation of the Iranian government's record over the past forty years. In the past four decades, Tehran's agents lured and killed the opposition in a restaurant in Germany, stabbed Iran's last pre-Islamic Revolution Prime Minister in his residence near Paris, and abducted opponents in neighboring countries before taking them to Iran and killing them there.

However, Zam's controversial case was different from other opponents. He did not have a party or organization to support him, but was rather a one-man army, the manager and admin of a Telegram channel that only briefly brought in other journalists to contribute, and was otherwise run even by one person. Iranian officials could not charge him with an armed rebellion, and there was no behind-the-scenes organization supporting him.

Despite his one-man operation, Zam and his limited facilities evolved into Iran's most disturbing media problem to the regime, particularly between 2016 and 2017. Suddenly, the regime's intelligence services managers and the state-run media found themselves facing a new phenomenon.

Iranian officials first tried to create technical problems for AMAD, such as hacking it or managing information flow through other channels in the Telegram messaging app, efforts that eventually failed. Then they spread rumors and unfounded claims about the news network and Zam, threatening Zam on social networks and media, producing documentaries against him, and arresting some of his family members. These efforts also failed to stop Zam.

Meanwhile, the circulation of confidential news on AMAD triggered a psychological war between different layers of the government. One parliament member accused the government of having links to Zam's channel, while another claimed there was a relationship between Iran intelligence agents and Paris-based whistleblowers.

All the while, AMAD was still receiving confidential documents from various parts of the political system and publishing them.

Despite the arrest of several people charged with relaying classified information to AMAD, Zam succeeded in publishing more damaging revelations, further humiliating Iran's intelligence services, judiciary, and state-run media. As a result, the regime's intelligence agents intensified their efforts to smear Zam's character, trying and failing to feed AMAD inaccurate news.

In December 2017, the management of a Russian-owned Telegram blocked AMAD for encouraging violence by allegedly promoting the usage of molotov cocktails, a form of homemade explosive. A little bit later, Zam launched a new channel on Telegram, titled Seda-ye Mardom, "voice of the people," and gathered more than one million followers.

After failing for years to suppress the AMAD phenomenon, Iran's intelligence services decided that abducting Zam was the only practical way left to end their humiliation.

In October 2019, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps' intelligence Organization announced that it had lured Zam and "guided" him back to the country. Hours later, state-run TV showed a 90-second video which aired at prime time, showing Zam claiming he regretted his media activities in exile in recent years.

While being blindfolded and sitting in an unidentified vehicle moving toward an unknown place, Zam briefly said that he was remorseful and apologized to the Iran establishment.

State-run TV continued to broadcast Zam's numerous forced confessions and his trial, accompanied by sometimes ridiculous remarks. It was evident that the establishment intended to humiliate and disgrace Zam's name in an orchestrated way, culminating in his death on Saturday.

The entire process of the regime abducting Ruhollah Zam, forcing him to confess, holding mock trials, and executing him was seemingly designed to avenge and compensate for the intelligence forces' humiliation.