"Ruhollah Zam's death sentence is a political judgement"

The death sentence against journalist Ruhollah Zam in Iran has been criticised worldwide. Iran has said it will not accept any interference in its "internal affairs". Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi takes Tehran to task over the matter. Interview by Shabnam von Hein

By Shabnam von Hein

Shirin Ebadi: Ruhollah Zam ran a news channel on the Messenger app Telegram from France. Zam published a series of correct posts, but also a series of false ones. The crucial question now is whether the penalty for spreading false information should be the death penalty. If it is, shouldn't the head of Iranian Radio and Television also be executed? Under his leadership, far more false news is disseminated than Zam has ever published.

The death sentence in the case of Ruhollah Zam is a political judgment, not a legal one. He did not have a fair trial. The pronouncement of the sentence coincided with the meeting of the Security Council, where, at the request of the USA, the extension of the arms embargo on Iran was on the agenda. I believe that the Iranian authorities thought that the media worldwide were busy with this meeting and would not pay any attention to the death sentence against Zam.

However, the media as well as the Iranian civil society reacted to this sentence and condemned it. Experience has shown that if the Iranian society and the world community are vigilant on an issue, those in power in Iran adjust their decision to avoid unpleasant consequences.

The protests against the death sentence for Ruhollah Zam inside and outside Iran are effective and can save Zam.

Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam (photo: picture-alliance/AP)
Politisch willfähriges Urteil: Im vergangenen Februar hatte der Prozess gegen den iranischen Journalisten Ruhollah Zam begonnen, der auch wegen "Verbrechen gegen die innere und äußere Sicherheit" und "Spionage für den französischen Geheimdienst" angeklagt wurde. Die iranischen Revolutionsgarden hatten im Oktober die Festnahme Zams gemeldet, der in Frankreich als Flüchtling anerkannt war. Sam wurde beschuldigt, "vom französischen Geheimdienst geführt und von Amerika und dem israelischen Regime unterstützt zu werden".

Ruhollah Zam left Iran in 2009 and was subsequently granted political asylum in France. The French government has condemned his death sentence. France is also concerned about the situation of Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist who was arrested in Iran and sentenced to five years in prison. However, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated that France should not interfere in Iran's internal affairs. Can France help Ruhollah Zam and Fariba Adelkhah?

Ebadi: Human rights apply universally. The Iranian government sees it as its right to raise the issue of human rights violations in Palestine or Saudi Arabia. But it is outraged when other countries in the world criticise human rights violations in Iran.

France can appeal to the UN Human Rights Council. This UN Council should be used in the cases of Zam or Adelkhah.

Fariba Adelkhah was taken hostage in Iran. The anthropologist from the Parisian university Sciences Po (Institute for Political Studies Paris, editor's note) was visiting Iran when she was arrested. She was sentenced to five years in prison for alleged "conspiracy against national security".

French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, arrested while on a research trip in Iran (photo: AFP/Sciences Po/T. Arrive)
Fariba Adelkhah als Geisel des Regimes in Teheran: Die im Iran im vergangenen Mai inhaftierte französisch-iranische Forscherin Fariba Adelkhah wurde zu fünf Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt. Ein Gericht in Teheran hatte sie wegen "Verschwörung gegen die nationale Sicherheit" verurteilt. Die Anthropologin von der Pariser Universität Sciences Po wurde demnach außerdem zu einer einjährigen Haftstrafe wegen "Propaganda gegen die Islamische Republik" verurteilt.

But the truth is that Iran is taking its dual citizens hostage to pursue political objectives in the country of the second nationality. I very much hope that Mrs Adelkhah and all the other hostages held in Iran will be released as soon as possible.

At the same time I call on all countries of the world not to comply with the political demands of the Iranian government in such cases. Iran must stop taking its citizens hostage.

The judiciary in Iran repeatedly emphasizes its independence. Now there is a new chief justice who is committed to working for more justice. How do you assess the new developments in the Iranian judiciary?

Ebadi: The head of the judiciary is elected by Iran's religious and political leader and is therefore accountable only to him. The justice system can only change if the power structures in Iran change.

Interview conducted by Shabnam von Hein

© Deutsche Welle 2020

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.