Iran says it nabs exiled opponent ‘directed by French intel,’ backed by Israel

TEHRAN — Iran has arrested an opposition figure who had been “directed by France’s intelligence service” and he is now in custody in the Islamic republic, the Revolutionary Guards said on Monday.

Ruhollah Zam, who ran a “counter-revolutionary” Telegram channel, was detained in a “sophisticated and professional operation” by the Guards’ intelligence organization, the elite paramilitary force said in a statement.

Zam reportedly lived in exile in Paris, but the Guards’ statement did not specify when or where he was arrested.

The Guards said he was “trapped” by its intelligence organization.

It said this was despite the fact he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service and supported by intelligence services of America and the Zionist regime,” something the journalist long denied.

The Guards said they managed to “deceive” foreign services and arrest him by “using modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics.”

It said the operation showed Iran’s enemies were “lagging behind” its own intelligence services.

Last year, Iran’s telecommunication minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi demanded Telegram shut Zam’s AmadNews channel, saying it was inciting an “armed uprising.”

The channel, which had around 1.4 million followers, was later removed.

Last week Iran released a Russian journalist detained amid reports she had been arrested for allegedly spying for Israel, Russian media reported. Tehran denied those reports, saying the case was about a visa violation. Early Thursday they put Yulia Yuzikon on a flight back to Moscow, the Russian news site Vesti reported, citing the Russian embassy in Tehran.

It’s difficult to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of the country’s 80 million citizens, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Zam, 46, once was detained during turmoil following the disputed 2009 presidential election that led to the re-election of former hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Zam is the son of Shiite cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, a reformist who once served as a government policymaker in the early 1980s. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July 2017 in which he said he wouldn’t support his son over AmadNews’ reporting and messages on its Telegram channel.

“I found that you crossed the red line,” the cleric wrote, referring to comments the channel circulated about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Our red line is the supreme leader, but you passed the red line.”

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