Iran faced growing international condemnation on December 14 over its recent execution of an opposition journalist whose online work helped inspire anti-government protests in 2017, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denouncing the move as "unjust" and "barbaric."
Ruhollah Zam, a 47-year-old former exile in France, was hanged on December 12 after being convicted of "corruption on Earth," a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.
Zam had been held in jail in Iran after local intelligence services reportedly seized him while he was traveling in neighboring Iraq in 2019.
He was sentenced to death in June following what media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called a "grossly unfair" trial.
Pompeo joined a chorus of international outrage over the execution, saying the United States "strongly condemns Iran's unjust, barbaric execution of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist kidnapped abroad by the regime."
"Zam exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime, which has killed or arrested more than 860 journalists in its 41-year reign of terror," he wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was "appalled" at the execution and urged Tehran to halt its "alarming and increasing" use of the death penalty.
"His death sentence and execution by hanging are emblematic of a pattern of forced confessions extracted under torture and broadcast on state media being used as a basis to convict people," Bachelet said in a statement on December 14.
But Iranian President Hassan Rohani claimed on December 14 that Zam's execution was carried out based on law and that Iran's judiciary is independent.
"They (Europeans) have the right to comment, but Zam was executed upon a court ruling... I think it's unlikely that this will hurt Iran-Europe relations," Rohani said in televised remarks.
The EU had already condemned the journalist’s execution "in the strongest terms" and reiterated its "irrevocable opposition to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances."
To protest Zam’s execution, France, Germany, and several other EU member states cancelled their ambassadors’ participation in a major business forum between Iran and Europe which had been due to kick off in Tehran on December 14.
Subsequently, organizers of the three-day Europe-Iran Business Forum announced on December 13 that the forum had been postponed, but it didn’t mention the reason behind the decision.
Zam's website, AmadNews, and a channel he created on the popular messaging app Telegram, had informed people about protests in 2017 that began over economic hardship and spread nationwide.
The protests represented the biggest challenge to Iranian leaders since postelection mass unrest in 2009 and set the stage for similar turmoil in November 2019. More than 20 people were killed during the unrest and thousands were arrested.
Telegram said it suspended AmadNews in 2018 for publishing information on making Molotov cocktails, breaching its terms of service. The channel later continued on Telegram under a different name.