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Europe-Iran business forum postponed amid outcry over journalist’s execution

Organizers delay event after ambassadors from several EU states say they won’t take part, in protest of hanging of Ruhollah Zam

Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial at Iran's Revolutionary Court in Tehran, June 30, 2020. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency/AFP)
Ruhollah Zam speaks during his trial at Iran's Revolutionary Court in Tehran, June 30, 2020. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency/AFP)

PARIS — Organizers have postponed a major forum on business between Iran and Europe due to begin Monday in the wake of an outcry over the execution at the weekend of journalist and opposition figure Ruhollah Zam.

The three-day Europe-Iran Business Forum had been due to kick off with keynote remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, followed by a panel with EU ambassadors.

But the holding of the event caused controversy coming two days after the execution of Zam, who ran a social media channel popular during 2017 protests.

The hashtag #BoycottEuropeIranBusinessForum trended on Twitter and several activists spoke out against the online event taking place.

“The organizing committee of the Europe-Iran Business Forum has decided to take the exceptional step of postponing the conference,” the organizers said in a statement late Sunday.

“The European and Iranian business communities continue to see significant potential and value in commercial exchanges,” they added, expressing hope the conference would take place in the near future.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) welcomes European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in the capital Tehran on February 3, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The French foreign ministry had said on its Twitter account that following the “barbaric and unacceptable execution” of Zam, its ambassador to Tehran, as well as those of Germany, Austria and Italy, were canceling their participation in the forum.

“#nobusinessasusual,” it said in a hashtag.

Christian Buck, the German foreign ministry’s director for the Middle East, also confirmed on Twitter that EU member states’ envoys would not take part.

Zam was hanged on Saturday after Iran’s supreme court upheld his death sentence passed in June over his role in protests during the winter of 2017-18, among other charges.

The dissident, who ran a Telegram channel widely followed in the protests, had lived in Paris for several years after being given refugee status and residency in France.

Ruhollah Zam during his trial at Iran’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran, June 30, 2020. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency/AFP)

But activists say he was held after traveling to Iraq from Paris in October 2019 in circumstances that remain unclear, with some campaigners accusing Tehran of abducting him.

The German foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday it was shocked by the circumstances surrounding Zam’s conviction “particularly by the… kidnapping from abroad.”

Iran’s foreign ministry on Sunday had summoned Germany and France’s envoys to protest EU condemnation of his execution.

The postponing of the business forum is a major blow to proponents of improving engagement with Iran through encouraging trade and commerce.

The international furor over Zam’s execution also comes at a hugely delicate time with European powers eager to revive the international deal on the Iranian nuclear program when incoming US president Joe Biden takes office next year.

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