Why is the world ignoring the execution of an Iranian journalist?

Iran has set a frightful record when it comes to human rights, an issue that has escalated dramatically in recent years.

DISSIDENT IRANIAN journalist Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial in Tehran in June. (photo credit: MIZAN NEWS AGENCY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
DISSIDENT IRANIAN journalist Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial in Tehran in June.
Exiled Iranian journalist and Amad News founder Ruhollah Zam was executed last month. Amad News became well-known in recent years for its exposure of the Iranian regime’s corruption and encouragement of the protests against it.
Zam, born in 1978 in Tehran, was a partner in the widespread protests that erupted after the Iranian elections in 2009 (the “Green Movement”) and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in the Evin Prison in Tehran. After his release, he received political asylum in France, which included extensive security protection from the French authorities out of fear for his safety.
In 2015, Zam started the independent Amad News on the Telegram messaging service. It was soon expanded to additional platforms, where information was published about what was happening in Iran and the injustices and corruption of the regime.
Amad News aroused much interest after demonstrations erupted in the city of Mashhad at the end of 2017 and then spread to the whole country. During the protests, Zam published a great deal of information about what was happening in Iran, as well as practical information that was used by the demonstrators, such as the time and locations of protest gatherings.
The Telegram channel peaked at close to 1.5 million followers. Over the years, Zam published a great deal of embarrassing information about the regime’s behavior, government corruption and damage to the lives of Iranian citizens. He published stories about the expense of public funds spent by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, information about children of senior Iranian officials living lives of luxury in the West, and the takeover of assets and resources by financial entities linked to the supreme leader.
In October 2019, Zam was lured to Iraq from France, and while in the country, was abducted by the IRGC and brought to Iran. Rather than being covert, the Iranian regime proudly issued an official statement on October 14, 2019, describing the abduction operation as a “sophisticated intelligence operation.” The announcement was made in the regime’s official news agency, IRNA.
While in Iran, Zam was forced to confess his actions and apologize for them in a video broadcast by the Iranian regime-affiliated news agency Tasnim. As part of his confession, he reiterated statements made by former supreme leader Ali Khamenei, including the claim that the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia were behind the widespread protests in 2017. His trial was held in a revolutionary court in Tehran, where he was sentenced to death. His appeal was rejected by Iran’s Supreme Court, and on November 5, Zam was executed.
Iran has set a frightful record when it comes to human rights, an issue that has escalated dramatically in recent years. The regime violently suppressed protests in 2017, but this was eclipsed by the violence following the suppression of the 2019 protests that erupted following the crisis involving the country’s fuel prices. The regime shut down the Internet infrastructures and carried out mass killing of protesters, with the appalling numbers revealed only a short time later, today estimated at more than 1,000 dead. A few weeks ago, Iranian judoka Navid Afkari was executed for his involvement in the 2018 protests. The regime’s brutal behavior regarding protests is indicative of its deep-seated concerns over its survival.
While the kidnapping of Zam was led by the intelligence agency of IRGC – the military arm subordinate to the supreme leader and affiliated with the conservative-radical stream in Iran – even senior “reformist” regime leaders defended the act, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, who is leading Iran’s negotiations on the JCPOA nuclear deal.
IN RESPONSE to the incident, France and Germany announced that they would not participate in the Europe-Iran Business Forum, an economic conference organized by the European Union to promote economic cooperation between Europe and Iran, at which Zarif planned to speak. Following the European countries’ announcements, the entire conference was canceled. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the French and German ambassadors for a reprimand after their condemnation of the execution, in which Iranian Foreign Ministry officials made various accusations against Europe.
This was not the first time in recent years that Iran has shown aggression toward European countries. In July 2018, an Iranian diplomat was arrested after he planned to blow up a convention of the opposition organization Mujahedin-e-Khalq near Paris. The diplomat, an employee of the embassy in Vienna, was arrested while traveling in Germany. At the same time, a couple of Iranians in Belgium were arrested, as well as other Iranians in France who were suspected of involvement in the plot.
It should be emphasized that in this case, too, these activities involved officials from the Iranian Foreign Affairs and Intelligence ministries, two bodies affiliated with Rouhani and the allegedly “reformist, moderate” Zarif. In January 2020, Iran shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane, and tried to obscure the evidence and deny the fact that the plane was shot down by Iran’s anti-aircraft systems.
The relatively soft reactions of the West to repeated subversion of Iranians and ongoing human rights violations in the country is an issue that affects not just the West but, first and foremost, Iranian citizens. The escalation in the regime’s response to the protests expresses a sense of disregard regarding international norms. In the context of the Zam affair in Iran, opposition voices have been raised opposing the regime’s execution policy. However, those who express criticism and seek to protect their people in Iran are exposed to ongoing abuse by the regime.
While the P5+1 countries continue treating the nuclear issue separately from other aspects, Iranian citizens and citizens of other countries in the region suffer. It is clear that in order to reach a sustainable solution for the nuclear issue, Iranian policy must be curbed in all aspects: human rights, support of terrorism, involvement in foreign countries, the ballistic rockets program and the country’s undermining of regional stability.
As a democracy with one of its core elements being human rights, Israel acknowledges that a direct line needs to be drawn between Iran’s terrorism, its nuclear ambitions and human rights abuses in the country. If Iran’s way back into the international community is not founded on human dignity, then other issues will not be solved and Iran will not be trusted by the international community, especially according to Western values.
A review of international media regarding Zam indicates that while in the week after the execution there was extensive media coverage of the topic, the discourse has weakened, certainly when compared to the story of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even the newspapers that took the issue seriously, such as The Washington Post, did not see fit to link the issue to the return to the JCPOA.
The equation is simple: The West would rather ignore and repress what it knows about the regimes’ atrocities so it can quickly return to some sort of deal with Iran that will give the (false) sense that there is no nuclear threat to worry about – even if this means casting aside the very basics of Western morals regarding human rights. Consequently, unlike the devoted coverage of the Khashoggi affair, there is too little interest in a brutal assassination of the Iranian journalist who was murdered for revealing the truth.
The writer is an alumnus of the IDF intelligence Unit 8200, an expert on Iran and Iranian proxies in the Middle East, and a researcher at Protectors of Israel – Habithonistim.