Tehran treats people as political pawns to get what it wants

Its leaders conduct summary trials without compunction

epa07641417 Nizar Zakka (C) at the presidential palace in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon 11 June 2019. Zakka was held in September 2015  in Tehran, where he had received an official invitation from Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs to speak at the event. Iranian state television announced that he was speculated of having links to American intelligence, and he sentenced to 10 years and pay a $4.2 million fine.  EPA/NABIL MOUNZER
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After languishing in an Iranian jail for four years, Nizar Zakka was finally reunited with his family in Lebanon this week as part of an Eid amnesty deal. The information technology expert had been held since September 2015 on spurious charges after attending a conference. A five-minute trial – in which he said members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps absurdly accused him of organising the Ukrainian revolution – landed him a 10-year sentence for espionage and a Dh15.4million fine. "They were very difficult times," he told The National. "You hope to die. You hope that the next morning you will not wake up." His ordeal included being held in solitary confinement for 18 months, which prompted six hunger strikes during his detention. His inhumane treatment dealt a blow to his health and he will never be able to recoup the stolen years of his life – but he is just one of many victims of wrongful arrest and detention in Iran.

The Lebanese-American national was jailed in Evin prison, a facility notorious for housing political dissidents, foreigners and dual nationals, who often end up as collateral damage of Iranian foreign policy. Mr Zakka told The National he had been used as a pawn in a power struggle within the ruling class in Tehran. His arrest came a month prior to the signing of the nuclear deal and he believes his detention was prompted by the IRGC, who did not wish Iran to be more open to the world, just as the regime was looking to attract foreign investors. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch denounced Iran for deliberately targeting dual national citizens and foreigners and using them as hostages to exert pressure on their home countries. Just last month, authorities detained British Council employee Aras Amiri, a dual national who was visiting her grandmother when she was arrested. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for organising cultural events. British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in the women's wing since 2016 amid claims she tried to topple the regime. Others have faced death in Evin. Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, was raped, tortured and killed following her arrest in 2003. Her sole crime was taking pictures outside the prison with no authorisation.

Their collective treatment is indicative of a flagrant disregard for compassion and humanity and a regime which sees people as political pawns to use as leverage to get what it wants. Mr Zakka has vowed to campaign on behalf of his co-prisoners, who cannot be left at the mercy of leaders with no compunction.