Released Lebanese businessman Zakka: ‘I was virtually sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’
BEIRUT: Nizar Zakka, who has barely been out of Tehran’s Evin Prison 24 hours after spending nearly four years in it, still feels the impact of what happened to him.
After his release, Zakka summarized what happened to him — his tears streamed down his face more than once during the interview.
Zakka said he visited Iran only four times previously on official invitations, and on a fifth after an invitation from the country’s vice president to participate in a conference on informatics.
“Three days after my participation in the conference, I did not feel that I was an unwanted guest and had not received any remarks. On my way back to the airport, a car with people in civilian clothes intercepted us. They took me out of the car and spoke to me in English saying that no one would see me anymore,” he told Arab News.
“They arrested me, and said that they would kill me. There was no explanation for what happened, and I was tortured. They asked me to say on camera that I was working with the Americans and I planned on overthrowing the regime in Iran. I was there because of an official invitation. So, I refused their request. I felt that if it was going to end in death, why not resist what was happening to me unjustly?
“They knew that I was innocent, but it seems that they wanted to send a message. The kidnappers were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and they wanted to show that they could do what they wanted. I was an activist in the field of human rights and had free access to the internet, and expressed my opinion at a conference in Tehran. They exploited this as a weak link for international companies, to send them a message that they are forbidden to enter Iran. They succeeded, they stopped coming to Iran — they feared their safety.”
Regarding the trial he was subjected to, he smiled. “It was only for show. I stood in front of the judge and they began to mock me. One of them said that I was detained for inciting the revolution in Ukraine. I laughed and told the judge they had the wrong file. The representative of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps read out the accusations, without asking me a single question, and that’s how I was sentenced. The cell I stayed in had 50 detainees living in the worst conditions.”
He said that in the cell, he knew Americans Ziyu Wang and Karen Godafari, former Iranian Vice President Hamid Mashaki, and Mahdi Rafsanjani, the son of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. He said that he also met “an Iraqi detainee and many Iranians, Kurds and Arabs. There were many Iranian diplomats, all accused of treachery because it is the easiest charge.
“Every person who was arrested was subjected to physical torture of all kinds, which later turned into a psychological torture. I slept every night hoping not to wake up the next day.”
As for his contact with the outside world, Zakka said: “At first they allowed us to call family members, but only for 4 minutes that would go by without speaking, and later, when they transferred me to the public prison, those who ran it allowed us a 15-minute phone call. They dealt with us more compassionately than the Revolutionary Guard did.
I was physically and mentally tortured to a point where I wished for death.
Nizar Zakka, Lebanese businessman
“A year ago, I met with the director general of the Lebanese Directorate of General Security, but nothing happened. I lost hope. I was informed that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil spoke about my release date during Ramadan. The month went by, then Eid came, and nothing happened. Two days ago, those who imprisoned me came to tell me that I would be released.”
Zakka believes that the reason for his change of fortunes was the internal discussions in the Iranian regime over how to proceed with new Lebanese President Michel Aoun. “The Iranians wanted to present a gift to Aoun. It (his release) may have been a message to Lebanon, but perhaps there is something else. The Japanese prime minister (Shinzo Abe), who comes to Tehran, is the son of a foreign minister (Shintaro Abe) who played the biggest role in ending the war between Iran and Iraq.”
Aoun has so far avoided visiting Iran, despite several calls for him to do so. Political sources in Beirut believe that Aoun “takes into account the international community opposing Iran, and the internal Lebanese position critical of its interference in Arab countries.”
Zakka said that after announcing his release, he was accompanied by several Iranian civilians to the market and bought a cake to celebrate.
They also took him to the carpet market and asked him to choose the most expensive one. They chose one for $10,000 as a gift, and officers from the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the prosecutor’s office were asked to apologize to Zakka. A red carpet was also laid out at a private airport in Tehran as Zakka left Iran.
When asked if he had received calls from the US Embassy in Beirut after his release, Zakka said: “There are friends at the embassy who are calling to check.”
When he was arrested, he was 48 years old. Today he is 52. “Four years of my life were lost,” he lamented. “I watched my children grow up. I want to go to the US to see them. I miss them so much.”
Britain says war with Iran would strengthen militants
BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we…
BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday condemned Turkish “interference” in Libya after Ankara sent troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government, warning this complicates the crisis in the oil-rich state.After emergency talks on the situation with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and Italy, Josep Borrell said the Turkish intervention was “something that we reject and which increases our worries about the situation in Libya”.
US warns ships in Middle East waterways of possible Iran action
LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the…
LONDON: Britain on Tuesday called for calm after the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and said a war with Iran would only benefit Islamist militants across the Middle East.“What we’re looking to do is to de-escalate the tensions with Iran and make sure in relation to Iraq that we don’t lose the hard-won gains that we secured against Daesh,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday said the US killing of Soleimani was state terrorism, and that Iran would ‘respond proportionately.’“We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war it would be very damaging and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners,” the British foreign secretary said.“We’re working with our US partners, our EU partners, that is why I’m travelling out to Brussels today, to make sure we send a very clear and consistent message on the need for de-escalation and to find a diplomatic route though.”
Arab League reaffirms rejection of foreign interference, calls for Libya solution
CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the…
CAIRO: Egypt’s recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to a traffic circle in the congested heart of Cairo has fueled fresh controversy over the government’s handling of its archaeological heritage.Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has weighed in to say that similar obelisks are displayed in Western cities, according to a statement late Monday.But Dr. Monica Hanna, a heritage expert, said Egyptian artifacts in cities like London, Paris and New York are themselves endangered by being outdoors.“The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air,” Hanna told The Associated Press.She and a member of parliament are part of a lawsuit to block the artifacts’ move, filed recently by a local rights group.Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the government “will do everything” to protect the artifacts.Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt’s so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.The decision to move the artifacts as part of a larger renovation of Tahrir Square was taken without debate in parliament. The controversy only surfaced after archaeologists objected.Since coming to power in 2013, El-Sisi has touted a number of megaprojects aimed at rebuilding and expanding infrastructure. Those include an expansion of the Suez Canal and a new Egyptian museum near the Giza Pyramids.A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo’s main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns.Waziri, the antiquities chief, said the four sphinxes are not part of the famed avenue of sphinxes in the city of Luxor. They were among several located behind the first edifice of the temple of Karnak.The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.But Hanna, the heritage expert, stressed that the obelisks in Western capitals had been moved during the colonial era. “We really had no say in their shipment.”