The wife of Ruhollah Zam, the arrested journalist and founder of Amad News, has stated that her husband was kidnapped while in Iraq.
Mahsa Razani said her husband had disappeared not long after arriving in Baghdad, where he had flown to from France. She says she did not hear from him for 24 hours, and then when he did call, he sounded strange and not like himself. Razani called on the French government to intervene and bring him back to the country, where the couple and their two daughters have been living.
Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of Ruhollah Zam on October 14, and Iranian media reported the arrest shortly after. Some Iranian authorities referred to it as a victory over “foreign enemies,” and the Guards claimed it as “a professional intelligence operation using new methods of information analysis and innovative techniques” to bring Zam, a dissident journalist who the Guards described as “the head of the counter-revolutionary and hostile Amad News network,” back to the country.
“My husband Ruhollah Zam’s flight on October 11 was with Royal Jordanian from Paris to Baghdad," Razani said. He had a short stay in Amman, the capital of Jordan. He arrived in Baghdad on Saturday early morning. We heard nothing from him the first 24 hours after his arrival in Baghdad, and he didn’t answer my calls until Sunday morning. He talked in a very unusual way and [the call] lasted only a minute. He said all was good. We heard nothing else from him until we saw in the media that he had been arrested.”
After authorities announced his arrest, state television showed footage of Zam confessing to his guilt while blindfolded. In the clip, Zam apologizes for what he had done, and says that it was not advisable to “trust other states.” It is unclear under what circumstances he confessed, but given recent interviews with Nader Nouri Kohan and Mazyar Ebrahimi, two of several people accused of being responsible for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, it would appear that Zam had been tortured, or at least threatened with torture, to force him to confess.
Was Zam Due to Meet Ayatollah Sistani?
A friend of Rouhollah Zam who asked to remain anonymous said the arrest had not actually been the result of any complex operation, despite what the Guards claim. Zam, he says, was naive to go to Iraq by himself. “The Iranian security apparatus has extensive contacts in neighboring countries. Iran has kidnapped and killed many opposition figures before. It was obvious that they could surprise him in the same way [as they had done before] and kidnap him,” the friend said.
The Revolutionary Guards Corps said Zam’s televised statement proved that it had been able to break the “multiple security layers around Rouhollah Zam” and arrest him.
But Zam’s friend denies this. “There was no security layer around Zam. He didn’t have any financial resources to hire a security guard, nor does the French government give such services to refugees — even if they are in danger.”
Razani said her husband was with their family until Thursday, October 10. He then stayed in Paris in order to travel to Iraq as he had planned, and the rest of the family returned to their home elsewhere in France.
“My husband’s flight from Charle de Gaulle airport in Paris to Amman was on Friday at 4:25pm. I was in contact with him just before his flight. He sent me a selfie at 10:34pm from the transit lounge at Amman airport. His flight to Baghdad was at 11:20pm and he landed at 00:50 am in Baghdad.” He was due to fly back to Paris on Thursday, October 17.
It is not clear why Zam decided to fly during the Muslim holiday of Arba’een, and his wife says she does not know why he was going to Baghdad. But Rouhollah Zam’s friend says that one of their colleagues from Amad News had encouraged Zam to visit the influential Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of Shia Muslims in Iraq. The colleague, he said, might have unconsciously fallen into a trap set by Iran’s security agencies and ended up cooperating with their plans to incarcerate Zam.“ He told Rouhollah that everything is already prepared for him, and Ayatollah Sistani is willing to see him,” the friend said, adding that Zam had believed him.
We asked Mahsa Razani about the claims, but she declined to comment on the suggestion that Zam had gone to Iraq to meet with the famous ayatollah.
George Malbrunot, a journalist from French newspaper Le Figaro, reported on Zam’s arrest, claiming that a young woman had gone to Paris to persuade Zam to travel to Baghdad. It is not clear what Malbrunot’s source is, and Zam’s wife denied the claim. “He didn’t have any meeting with anyone in Paris,” she told me. And Zam’s friend said that the Amad News colleague is not based in Paris and he doesn’t believe that Iranian authorities would send a security agent to Paris to convince him to travel to Iraq.
“It is my right to know where my husband is”
For the first 24 hours after his arrival in Baghdad, Zam’s wife did not hear from him — unusual behavior for him, Razavi said. She tried to call him, but he did not answer, something else she said was strange. “I had no news from my husband and sent him several messages but couldn’t talk to him,” she told me. “He called me on Sunday early morning from his French number; the way he talked and the words he used were very untypical of him. I didn’t get it at that time. I totally lost my sense to detect [what was going on]. He said: ‘I’m fine; don’t worry; I will buy a SIM card tomorrow with [access to the] internet and we will video call.’ It was only about a minute and he said he should go.”
After that, Zam didn’t call his wife again. And then, 36 hours after he had left her, she heard the news about his arrest in the media. “My husband was kidnapped from Iraq, and I beg the French government, where we sought protection, to help us. Iraq should clarify how my husband was kidnapped. It is my right to know where my husband is.”
The Le Figaro report does not specify whether the French government has done anything to address the matter, but it does say France’s interior ministry has confirmed that Zam was a registered refugee and was therefore entitled to protection from French police. But when I asked Razani about whether she had appealed directly to French police, she declined to answer.
Rouhollah Zam and Mahsa Razani have two daughters, aged five and 16. The 16-year-old daughter knows about the arrest of her father and is hopeful he will be free soon. “My smaller daughter doesn’t know what happened and asks all the time about him and waits for him,” Razani told me. “My older daughter asks why France hasn’t done anything. I don’t know what answer to give her. What do I say to my children?”
The lawyers of political prisoners such as Ruhollah Zam, who are held on charges of undermining the country’s national security, are rarely given full access to their clients’ files or complete details of their cases. The presentation of a full and thorough defense is rarely allowed. Razani did not say what her next steps were, or what she thought Iranian officials would do next, and she did not confirm whether she had appointed a lawyer. “I ask the French government to follow my husband’s case until he is free,” she said.