Iran on Saturday executed a journalist over his online work that invoked nationwide economic protests in 2017, authorities said, just months after he returned to Tehran under mysterious circumstances. Ruhollah Zam, 47, was hanged early Saturday morning.
A court sentenced Zam to death in June, saying he had been convicted of “corruption on Earth,” a charge often used in cases like espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran’s government.
Zam’s website AmadNews and a channel he started on the popular messaging app Telegram had spread the timings of the protests and embarrassing information about officials that directly challenged Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
Those protests, which began at the end of 2017, caused the biggest challenge to Iran’s rulers since the 2009 Green Movement protests and set the stage for similar mass unrest in November of last year.
The initial spark for the 2017 protests was a sharp jump in food prices. Many believe that hard-line opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani provoked the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, aiming to direct public anger at the president. But as protests spread from town to town, and it turned against the entire ruling class.
Soon, cries directly challenging Rouhani and even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be heard in online videos shared by Zam. Zam’s channel also shared times and organizational details for the protests.
Telegram shut down the channel over Iranian government complaints it spread information about how to make gasoline bombs. The channel later continued under a different name. Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being framed of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram at the time.
The 2017 protests reportedly saw some 5,000 people arrested and 25 killed.
The details of his arrest still remain unexplained. Though he was based in Paris, Zam somehow returned to Iran and found himself arrested by intelligence officials. He’s one of several opposition figures in exile who have been returned to Iran over the last year.
France previously has criticized his death sentence as “a serious blow to freedom of expression and press freedom in Iran.”