Iran upholds death sentence against French-based journalist captured last year

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence against a dissident journalist who was captured in 2019 after years in exile in France, the judiciary said on Tuesday.

The decision was condemned by France and human rights groups.

Ruhollah Zam, whose Amadnews social media feed had more than one million followers, was convicted of fomenting violence during anti-government protests in 2017.

The son of a pro-reform Shi’ite cleric, Zam fled Iran and was given asylum in France.

In October 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had trapped Zam in a “complex operation using intelligence deception”. It did not say where the operation took place.

“Yes, the Supreme Court has upheld the sentence passed by the Revolutionary Court in this case,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told a news conference streamed on a judiciary website.

Nour News, a news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards, said on Tuesday: “After travelling to Iraq in September 2019, he (Zam) was arrested by agents...of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence service and brought to Iran.”

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The French foreign ministry condemned the decision.

“The death sentence against the journalist Mr. Rouhollah Zam is a serious attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Iran. France strongly condemns it and calls on Iran to respect its international human rights obligations,” the ministry said in a statement.

Amnesty International said in a tweet: “Iran’s Supreme Court upholding the death sentence of #RouhollahZam, a journalist and dissident, is a shocking escalation in Iran’s use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression.”

Iranian officials have accused arch-foe the United States as well as Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and government opponents living in exile of fomenting the unrest, which began in late 2017 as regional protests over economic hardship and spread nationwide.

Officials said 21 people were killed during the unrest and thousands were arrested. The unrest was among the worst Iran has seen in decades, and was followed by even deadlier protests last year against fuel price rises.

Zam’s Amadnews feed was suspended by messaging service Telegram in 2018 for allegedly inciting violence but had reappeared under another name.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom, and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich