US resident gets 10-year Iran prison sentence and $4.2 million fine

Associated Press have reported that a U.S. permanent resident has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and has received a $4.2 million fine. Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen, has already been detained for a year for spying allegations.

Zakka is an advocate for internet freedom and did non-profit work for the American government. He lives in Washington and holds U.S. resident status. He also leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, “an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region”. On 18th September 2015 he disappeared during his fifth trip to Iran where he attended a conference in which President Hassan Rouhani spoke about sustainable development and economic opportunities for women.

Iranian state television, on 3rd November, reported that Zakka was in custody for being a spy and having “deep links” with U.S. intelligence services. They also showed what they considered a damning photo of Zakka and three other men in army-style uniforms with flags and rifles on their shoulders. However, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia confirmed that the photo was from a homecoming event.

It is still unclear why Zakka was detained. In May the Associated Press reported that his organisation has received more than $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 “from both the State Department and USAID, the lead American government agency fighting poverty and promoting democracy across the world”.

This news is the latest in a crackdown carried out by the Iranian regime and comes at the time when Iranian officials are due to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

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

An American lawyer representing Zakka, Jason Poblete, said on Tuesday that the Iranian court gave the sentence in a 60-page verdict. According to Amnesty International, Zakka only got two court hearings prior to the ruling and had a minimum of legal advice.

Zakka’s supporters claim that the case was heard by Judge Abolghassem Salavati who is known for his tough sentences. Salavati has dealt with similar politically charged cases and was involved in the sentencing of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist.

Associated Press points out that Zakka’s sentencing has not been mentioned in Iran’s press, and Iran’s UN mission has failed to comment.

Zakka’s supporters have written to Secretary of State John Kerry saying that Zakka went to Iran “with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. State Department, and his trip was funded by grants” from it. However, the Associated Press could not confirm this.

“Neither American nor Lebanese officials, who the U.S. says are responsible for providing consular assistance to Zakka, have publicly acknowledged Zakka’s work with the U.S. government. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday, but Ramadan said he still held them responsible for Zakka’s safety.”