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Iran Sentences Lebanese IT Expert To 10 Years In Prison

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Nizar Zakka was detained in September 2015 in Tehran after attending a government-organized conference on entrepreneurship and employment.

Nizar Zakka was detained in September 2015 in Tehran after attending a government-organized conference on entrepreneurship and employment.

A Lebanese information technology expert detained in Iran for more than a year has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and given a $4.2 million fine, his U.S. lawyer told RFE/RL on September 20.

Nizar Zakka, 49, a resident of Washington, D.C., and a U.S. green card holder, had earlier announced his sentence, according to e-mails sent by his supporters, but there was no official confirmation. Zakka was detained in September 2015 in Tehran after attending a government-organized conference on entrepreneurship and employment in which he was a panelist.

Jason Poblete, a U.S. lawyer representing Zakka, said in a telephone interview that a revolutionary court in Iran had issued a 60-page verdict and sentence, although he said he had not yet seen a copy of the indictment or the verdict.

He said he had been informed about his client's sentencing through Zakka’s lawyer in Tehran.

“We need to review that before giving the exact details,” Poblete said, adding that Zakka was innocent and is being used as political pawn.

Iranian authorities have not commented on Zakka's sentence and state-controlled media have not covered the case. But the country's state-controlled television and hard-line media outlets have previously accused Zakka of having links to the U.S. military and intelligence services. It is unclear if the charges against Zakka are related to those claims.

"We consider him a hostage being held by the Iranian government and we've been asking our State Department and we will continue to ask our State Department to intervene in the matter to facilitate his unconditional release," Poblete said.

The U.S. State Department, in a September 20 statement, said it was troubled by the news of Zakka's sentencing and demanded his release, according to AP.

"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 news agency quoted the statement as saying.

Poblete said Zakka's lawyer in Iran would appeal the sentence.

"He's going to pursue any process available to him under that judicial system. I use that term somewhat loosely because there is not rule of law there and our client is being subjected to a lawless process," Poblete said.

Zakka is the general secretary of the Arab Communications and Information Technology organization, which advocates for Internet development in the Middle East.

Poblete says his client's arrest is a warning to all of those wanting to engage with the Islamic republic or do business in the country.

"Nizar’s case is a lesson for anyone, any Westerner, any individual going to Iran to engage in civil society or business, that just because you’re there at their invitation does not mean that you’re going to be treated with respect,” he said.

Poblete said Zakka has been informed of the prison sentence and that he remains “mentally focused” and determined to maintain his innocence against all charges.

In recent months, several dual nationals, including Iranian-Americans, have been detained in Iran in the wake of the 2015 agreement between world powers and the Islamic republic to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The reported arrests by the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) follow warnings by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of alleged "infiltration" attempts by the West.

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