Hariri Urges Zakka Release in Talks with Iran Envoy
Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Thursday called on Iran to release Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese IT expert and advocate of Internet freedom who has been sentenced in Tehran to ten years in jail on espionage-related charges, media reports said.
Zakka has a green card and was a permanent resident of the United States.
Hariri made his appeal during a meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammed Fathali, who visited him at the Grand Serail.
The state-run National News Agency said talks between the two men tackled “the general situations and the bilateral ties” between the two countries.
Lebanon's electoral commission has recently disqualified Zakka's attempted candidacy for the parliamentary elections under the excuse that the required paperwork was out of date. The nomination move was an attempt to draw the attention of Lebanese authorities and the public opinion to Zakka's case.
A Lebanese citizen and U.S. permanent resident detained for a year in Iran over spying allegations has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million fine, his supporters said Tuesday, the latest move in a crackdown on those with foreign ties following last year's nuclear deal.
Zakka, whose nonprofit group did work for the U.S. government, was sentenced to ten years in jail and a $4.2 million fine on September 20, 2016.
A statement from Jason Poblete, a U.S. lawyer representing Zakka, said a Revolutionary Court in Tehran handed down the sentence in a 60-page verdict.
Amnesty International has said Zakka had only two court hearings before the ruling and received only limited legal assistance. The closed-door tribunal handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.
Supporters say Judge Abolghassem Salavati heard Zakka's case. Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison. A prisoner swap in January 2016 between Iran and the U.S. freed Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.
Zakka, who lived in Washington and holds resident status in the U.S., led the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region. Zakka disappeared Sept. 18, 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. He had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of providing more economic opportunities for women and sustainable development.
On Nov. 3, 2015 Iranian state television aired a report saying he was in custody and calling him a spy with "deep links" with U.S. intelligence services. It also showed what it described as a damning photo of Zakka and three other men in army-style uniforms, two with flags and two with rifles on their shoulders. But that turned out to be from a homecoming event at Zakka's prep school, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, according to the school's president.
The Associated Press reported in May 2016 that Zakka's IJMA3 organization had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 from both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID.
Zakka's supporters have written the U.S. State Department stating that Zakka traveled to Iran "with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. State Department, and his trip was funded by grants" from it.
Neither American nor Lebanese officials, who the U.S. says are responsible for providing consular assistance to Zakka, have publicly acknowledged Zakka's work with the U.S. government.