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US resident sentenced to 10 years in prison after being invited to speak at a conference in Iran

Zakka went missing on the 18th of September last year while visiting Iran for the fifth time. As part of his trip, Zakka had been invited to speak at a conference by the Iranian government and cover topics of entrepreneurship, widening the range of economic opportunities for women and addressing the issue of sustainable development. Zakka has been in custody since the 3rd of November, as reported by the Iranian state television. He was accused of being a spy with clear links to the US. 

According to Amnesty International, the Lebanese citizen has only had two court hearings without receiving proper legal assistance. Despite his poor medical condition which is deteriorating, Zakka has also been denied any medical care. Zakka’s lawyer Jason Poblete reported that Tehran’s Revolutionary Court have declared his sentence in a 60-page document which has not yet been made available. Poblete himself has not seen the document but Zakka’s Iranian lawyer has shared its content with him.

The State Department have issued a statement, expressing how concerned they are about Zakka’s sentence, drawing upon basic human rights principles. “We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, cease any arbitrary or politically motivated detentions and ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all criminal prosecutions.” The State Department demand for Zakka to be released immediately.

Zakka’s sentence is especially troubling, considering that its execution does not appear to be juristically correct or fair. Following the historic US-Iran Nuclear deal which was sealed on the 16th of January 2016, actions like these throw a spanner in the developing relationships between Iran and the international community, making governments around the world question Iran’s commitment to human rights.

Since the deal was made, a number of citizens with a fairly high profile in the West have been detained in Iran without a fair trial. Among them are Homa Hoodfar, a retired Iranian-Canadian professor who taught in the US; Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman and advocate for a stronger relationship between the US and Iran, and his father Baquer Namazi; Robin Shahini , an Iranian-American who was detained during a family visit to Iran for making online comments against Iran’s record for human rights. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen was also arrested while visiting her parents in Iran with her toddler daughter. The former FBI agent Robert Levinson has also been missing in Iran since 2007.

The Iranian state media has not acknowledged or reported on Zakka’s sentence, and the UN mission in Iran have ignored the request to provide any further comments on the situation. 

Zakka’s sentence has been criticised by David Ramadan, the co-founder of Friends of Nizar Zakka group who previously acted as the legislator for state Virginia, US. “There’s no regard for any international order, any international agreement or any international state of relations that they care about,” he commented.

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