Iranian journalist and activist Roohollah Zam is detained at an undisclosed location in Iran. Intelligence agents arrested Zam, manager and founder a popular anti-government news channel on the messaging app Telegram, in Iraq in October 2019 and “guided” him into Iran.
Intelligence agents of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps arrested Zam in Baghdad, Iraq, on October 14, according to the state-run outlets Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and Young Journalists’ Club. Zam, who had been living in France, traveled to Iraq through Jordan and was arrested upon his arrival in Baghdad, where he was held for “more than one day,” and was then extradited to Iran, according to the BBC Persian Service.
Zam is an Iranian journalist who founded and managed Amad News, a channel on Telegram that posted and shared anti-government news, according to CPJ’s review of its posts. He also gave commentary to foreign Farsi-language outlets such as the U.S.-funded Voice of America Persian Service. He was living in exile in France until his arrest, according to the BBC.
An initial statement by the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps was broadcasted on state media a few hours after Zam’s arrest, and accused him of working with French, Israeli, and U.S. intelligence agencies. The statement said that Iranian intelligence agents “guided” Zam into the country, but did not elaborate.
Shortly after the statement was disseminated, Iranian state TV aired a video, uploaded by the Iranian outlet Tasnim News Agency, which depicted Zam blindfolded in a car, and then featured him apologizing for his actions and saying that “basically trusting any government is wrong, particularly those governments that show they don’t have good relations with the Islamic Republic, such as France, the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.”
After Zam’s apology was aired, the guard corps’ statement and a screenshot from the video were posted to the Amad News Telegram channel. CPJ could not determine who made those posts.
CPJ could not determine if charges have been formally filed against Zam, or if he has been given access to a lawyer.
CPJ was unable to contact Iran’s Ministry of Justice or the judiciary of Tehran province via their websites, which were not functioning. CPJ emailed Iran’s mission to the United Nations in October 2019, but did not receive a response.
In 2009, Zam took part in the street protests against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after which he was briefly imprisoned before fleeing to Malaysia and then to France, according to the ISNA report.
Zam launched Amad News as a news website and Telegram channel in 2015; the website has been offline since 2017, but the Telegram channel has about 1.4 million followers, according to CPJ’s review of the channel. Telegram shut down the original channel on December 30, 2017, at the request of the Iranian government, which accused it of “encouraging violence,” according to news reports. The outlet now posts as Sedaie Mardom (People’s Voice), which recently shared videos of labor protests and reports on alleged corruption among Iranian officials.
Telegram has been banned in Iran since May 2018, after the government claimed it endangered national security, but many Iranians continue to use the service through VPNs, according to news reports.
Zam is the son of Shiite cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, a reformist who held several government positions in 1990s and 2000s, according to the Young Journalists’ Club. Ali Zam issued a statement on October 27, 2019, denying playing any role in his son’s arrest and thanking Iranian authorities for returning his “misguided” son back to the country, according to a report by the Young Journalists’ Club.