Iran executed Ruhollah Zam, a dissident accused of inspiring protests across the country in 2017 through its high-profile Telegram channel, according to state-controlled media.
Mr Zam, 47, lived in exile in France until 2019 when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed him attracted him to the country and stopped him.
The IRGC also took control of its popular anti-government channel Telegram, which at its peak had around 1.4 million subscribers exchanging stories and opinions in opposition to the country’s clerical regime.
He was sentenced to death in June after being convicted of “corruption on Earth”, a charge often used in Iran in cases of espionage or threats to overthrow the Iranian government.
France criticized his conviction as “a blow to freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Iran”.
Mr. Zam’s popular Telegram channel and website were used to broadcast information about the 2017 protests, including their time and location, as well as to share embarrassing information about the country’s regime officials.
In a message broadcast on Iranian public television last year, the IRGC claimed his agents captured him as part of a “complex operation using intelligence deception.”
He was based in France at the time of his arrest. It is not known how the IRGC lured him to Iranian jurisdiction to arrest him, but in a statement he described him as being “guided into the country”.
Mr. Zam appeared in a series of televised confessions throughout this year.
In these appearances, he apologizes for his past activities and appears to weigh much less than he did in photos taken before he was detained by the IRGC. In July, he said he had lost 30 kg (4.7 stones) since his arrest.
The IRGC described Mr. Zam as a major contributor to the “enemy media network” waging “psychological warfare” and alleged that he was connected to intelligence services in France, Israel and the United States.
Mr Zam said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of collaborating with foreign intelligence services and denied inciting violence on Telegram.
Dozens of people were killed during widespread protests in Iran throughout the new year 2017-2018.
Following the protests, the Tehran authorities blocked Iranians’ access to Instagram and Telegram, despite President Hassan Rohani’s promise to leave “a space for legal criticism” of the regime.
“Social networks serve as major platforms for Iranians to discuss political, social and cultural issues; and mobile applications are being developed rapidly for start-ups, ”according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Kaveh Azarhoosh, senior researcher at Small Media – a non-profit organization focused on information exchange in the Middle East – told Sky News at the time that IRGC posted on Telegram after receiving it. grasped.
He said there was a “risk that they [the IRGC] could use it to contact innocent Iranians and lure them into false confessions or incriminating statements. “
Mahsa Alimardani, a doctoral student at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies Telegram’s impact on political communications in Iran, had told Sky News that the channel’s seizure was a propaganda coup for the IRGC.
“It’s unclear what impact Amad News had on mobilizing dissent during the 2017-18 protests, but what is true is that it is a platform anti-diet, a source of sensational and viral content, ”she said.
“It is easy for the Iranian authorities to blame a national mass protest movement on the nefarious intentions of a personality like Zam whom they are now forcing to confess to ‘crimes’ on Iranian television,” added Ms. Alimardani, who also does research for the human rights organization. ARTICLE 19.
“Ruhollah Zam is an important figure,” she said.
“He is the son of a middle-level Iranian cleric, and he was able to rely on privileged sources to gain access to secret documents concerning national security and corruption, helping to fuel the accusations against key figures in the regime like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
“It is not known how the IRGC captured him, but how the IRGC took control of the channel and started publishing about his arrest, and the television coverage that followed of his arrest and confession, is important to them. “