Statement on the Continued Unlawful Detention of Internet Freedom Advocate Nizar Zakka
Earlier today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened to markup H.R. 4744 – Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which was passed by the Committee and now goes to the House Floor for a vote. The measure, if passed by the House, would impose additional sanctions with respect to serious human rights abuses of the Government of Iran, and on Iranian officials involved in hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and U.S. Legal Permanent Residents.
On behalf of Mr. Nizar Zakka and his family, Mr. Zakka’s lawyer in the United States, Mr. Jason Poblete, issued the following statement:
“Nizar and his family thank members of the Congress, especially Congressmen McCaul, Deutch, Royce, and Engel, the original cosponsors of the bill, for sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and U.S. Legal Permanent Residents will not go unanswered. Mr. Zakka hopes this action, and the many other efforts by President Trump and his national security team will lead to Nizar’s unconditional release as well as the unconditional release of all unlawfully detained persons in Iran.”
Mr. Zakka traveled to Iran in September 2015, at the invitation of Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi, to speak at a conference on the use of technology and the Internet to promote social, economic, and educational development in the region. After the meeting, en route to the airport, Mr. Zakka was taken by persons believed to be associated with the IRGC’s Basij or the intelligence services. Nizar was unlawfully detained on September 18, 2015, the day before the U.S. Congress voted on the JCPOA political agreement between the United States and Iran.
Nizar has been falsely accused of espionage. In a March 2018 statement to the United Nations, Iranian officials, again, falsely accused Nizar of being involved in a “plot for overthrowing the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Despite the pressures, including psychological and physical torture, as well as several hunger strikes, Nizar has maintained his innocence and has refused to sign forced confessions.
The Iranian government has sent mixed signals about Nizar’s case including a statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on November 7, 2016 that “[w]hat happened with Mr. Zakka is not a problem between Iran and Lebanon, seeing as the problem was the violation of the applicable laws in Iran by a foreigner, and the problem is actually between the United States and Iran.”
Last year the US Congress approved two Congressional Resolutions urging, among other things, that President Donald Trump make the “release of United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens held hostage by the Government of Iran the highest of priorities … and that the United States and its allies whose nationals have been detained consider establishing a multinational task force to secure the release of the detainees.”
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