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How Will IRGC Spin The Case Of Kidnapped Whistleblower?

A screengrab from video shown on Iran state television showing Rouhollah Zam apologizing to the regime. October 14, 2019
A screengrab from video shown on Iran state television showing Rouhollah Zam apologizing to the regime. October 14, 2019

Authorities in Tehran have lined up to hail the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) fearsome Intelligence Organization for kidnapping an Iranian journalist in Iraq. But the story is not just a simple intrigue of neutralizing an opponent.

A political refugee in Paris, Ruhollah Zam, 46, was lured to Iraq, allegedly to meet Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.

The top Shi'ite cleric's office has denied the allegation, reports say.

Zam has been a vocal critic of the Islamic Republic for the past several years with a large following on social media, often spreading information about corruption by officials.

An IRGC statement said last Sunday that Zam, who was "guided" by the French intelligence service and was supported by the U.S., Israeli and other spy agencies and was permanently protected with several layers of secret service coverage, including overt and covert protection, was detained by its intelligence organization.

In a "complicated intelligence operation," its agents lured Paris-based Zam, and "guided" him to Iran, the paramilitary force announced.

Without elaboration on the time and place of arrest, the statement boasted of using "deceptive" methods to detain Zam.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic authorities, including the head of judiciary, the Secretary of the Islamic Republic's powerful Supreme National Security Council, IRGC Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Commander of Iran's General Staff of Armed Forces, IRGC Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri (Bagheri), and President Hassan Rouhani's Chief of Staff, Mahmoud Vaezi have hailed the IRGC's Intelligence Organization for its “great achievement”.

"After the downing of the U.S. drone, this operation showed the power of the Islamic Republic to the world both in the military and intelligence-related confrontations. They must know that their nasty dreams for beloved Iran will never come true," Vaezi maintained.

The IRGC Intelligence Organization is showered with such praises at a time when there is evident division between Iran's parallel intelligence services that accuse each other of "feeding" Ruhollah Zam with "sensitive information."

Therefore, it would not be surprising if the IRGC Intelligence Organization uses Zam as a "tool" for disgracing its rivals.

That is exactly why Tehran's outspoken representative to Majles (parliament), Ali Motahari, has expressed concern that Iranian intelligence officials might use Zam to settle scores, and level incriminating accusations against innocent people.

Furthermore, in an interview with the IRGC-linked Fars news agency on Tuesday, October 15, Ali Motahari warned the Iranian intelligence community against using "forced confessions" by a suspect to incriminate others.

Motahari's warning reflects concerns over comments recently expressed by the media and figures close to the IRGC, insisting that capturing or kidnapping Zam is not essential per se. What is more important, they have argued, is "discovering" the local network that used to feed the exiled journalist.

In its statement, the IRGC has also asserted that it would soon publish "complementary information" about the "highly complicated and wide network" connected to Zam.

Therefore, it appears that the IRGC has already set the second stage concerning the kidnapped whistleblower and the local network allegedly connected to him.

The "network", if really there is one, could be composed of journalists, opposition and political activists, mainly the so-called reformists, supporters of the hardline former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the security figures close to the IRGC Intelligence Organization's rival, the Ministry of Intelligence, and even the advocates of the incumbent President Rouhani.

In the meantime, there are thousands of social media users who have cast doubt on the whole operation, accusing Zam of being a tool in the hands of the Islamic Republic intelligence organizations. His mission has been accomplished, and he has been called back, they argue.

"If the IRGC intelligence agents have such a long arm, why they have not kidnapped former banker, Mahmoud Reza Khavari, who fled Iran with billions of embezzled dollars," they ask.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.