by Jazeh Miller
Nizar Zakka, a US resident and Lebanese businessman has been in an Iranian prison since September 2015. His son, Nadim Nizar Zakka, is campaigning for his release.
Zakka was sentenced to a decade in prison for espionage-related charges.
His son is urging President of Lebanon Michel Aoun to intervene in the situation and get his father released from jail. Aoun has previously made it clear that he wants to ensure Lebanese interests are a priority, so now is his chance to do just that.
Zakka, who endorsed Aoun, has been on a hunger strike for two weeks and is suffering from a medical condition that needs attention.
His son said that his father went to Iran on his Lebanese passport and highlights that he has no other nationality.
He wrote to President Aoun to appeal to his country to take responsibility and “restore the dignity of Lebanese citizens outside their country” so the people of Lebanon can “regain confidence in their country, state and Lebanese passport”.
Lebanon should look after its citizens that have been arrested outside the country, but it has so far failed to even comment.
Zakka lived in Washington in the United States and was in charge of an Arab IT consortium. He went to Iran in September 2015 to participate in the “International Conference on the Role of Women in Sustainable Development”.
He was leaving for Tehran airport on 18th September 2015, and as he was leaving his hotel, he went missing. His whereabouts were unknown until almost two months later when it was reported in Iranian media that he was being held by Iran’s notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The Iranian media reported that he was an asset of the United States with links to the military and intelligence communities. It reported that Zakka had plans to organise rallies in Iran campaigning for internet freedom in the country.
However, it did not report that Zakka was invited by the Iranian government to speak at the conference. Nor that his visa had been issued by the Iranian embassy in Beirut.
After being in jail for a year, he was found guilty of espionage and handed a sentence of a decade in prison and a fine of $4.2 million.
The IRGC has arrested a number of people with ties to the West. There have been several people arrested on very vague charges like cooperating with foreign governments. The authorities are unable to provide evidence of any links or espionage, but they are imprisoned nevertheless.
Even worse, these people are very badly mistreated in prison and they are subject to harsh interrogations and torture. They are deprived of due-process, essential medical care, and contact with their families.
Earlier this month, the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution urging Iran to release US citizens and permanent residents that are being held there, including Zakka.
Other foreign detainees include: Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American history student at Princeton; Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, an Iranian-Canadian who was part of the Iranian nuclear negotiation team; Siamak Namazi, a businessman, and his retired father, Baquer; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker; and Kamal Foroughi, a 78-year-old British-Iranian.