Lebanese gets 10-year Iran prison sentence for ‘spying’

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen who advocates for internet freedom, was also slapped a $4.2 million (Dh15.4m) fine, his supporters said.

A US permanent resident detained for a year in Iran over spying allegations has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million (Dh15.4m) fine, his supporters said on Tuesday.

It was the latest in a wide crackdown in Iran on those with foreign ties following the country’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

The sentence for Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen who advocates for internet freedom and whose nonprofit group did work for the US government, shows the challenge faced by western governments and those wanting warmer ties with Iran, where hardliners in the country’s security forces target dual nationals and others in secret trials.

“There’s no regard for any international order, any international agreement or any international state of relations that they care about,” said David Ramadan, a former Virginia state legislator who co-founded a group called Friends of Nizar Zakka.

A US lawyer representing Zakka, Jason Poblete, said a Revolutionary Court in Tehran handed down the sentence in a 60-page verdict. Amnesty International has said Zakka had only two court hearings before the ruling and received only limited legal assistance before the court, a closed-door tribunal which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Zakka, who lives in Washington and holds resident status in the US, leads the Arab ICT Organisation, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region. He disappeared on September 18, 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. He had been invited to attend a conference at which president Hassan Rouhani spoke of providing more economic opportunities for women and sustainable development.

On November 3, Iranian state television aired a report saying he was in custody and calling him a spy with “deep links” with US intelligence services. It also showed what it described as a damning photo of Zakka and three other men in army-style uniforms, two with flags and two with rifles on their shoulders. But that turned out to be from a homecoming event at Zakka’s prep school, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, according to the school’s president.

It is unclear what prompted Iranian authorities to detain Zakka.

Supporters say Judge Abolghassem Salavati heard Zakka’s case. Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison. A prisoner swap in January between Iran and the US freed Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.

There was no mention of Zakka’s sentence in Iranian state media.

* Associated Press

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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