Lebanese ‘spy’ held in Iran ends hunger strike
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Lebanese ‘spy’ held in Iran ends hunger strike

Internet access activist Nizar Zakka, accused by Tehran of having ‘deep links’ to US intelligence, halts 33-day fast at family’s request

IJMA3 Secretary General Nizar Zakka speaks to Lebanon's Future TV in July 2015. (Screen capture: Future Television Studios/Facebook)
IJMA3 Secretary General Nizar Zakka speaks to Lebanon's Future TV in July 2015. (Screen capture: Future Television Studios/Facebook)

BEIRUT — The lawyer of a Lebanese man held in Iran since 2015 says his client has ended a 33-day hunger strike.

Majed Dimashkiyeh sent The Associated Press a letter from Nizar Zakka announcing an end to his hunger strike following a request from his children.

Zakka, who has permanent US residency, went missing in 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. Two weeks later, Iranian state TV reported that he was in custody and suspected of having “deep links” to US intelligence services.

Last September, Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine after a security court convicted him of espionage.

Members of the US House of Representatives issued a resolution this week calling for Zakka’s release.

Zakka, 50, was rushed to a hospital earlier this month, where he refused an IV, his brother Ziad told The Associated Press. He said his brother was prepared to die if he is not released, and refused to sign documents in Farsi, a language he doesn’t understand.

Ziad Zakka, left, brother of Nizar Zakka who is imprisoned in Iran, speaks with his brother's lawyer Majed Dimshkiyeh in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Ziad Zakka, left, brother of Nizar Zakka who is imprisoned in Iran, speaks with his brother’s lawyer Majed Dimshkiyeh in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Zakka’s family denies the allegations against him. His brother said he had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of sustainable development and providing more economic opportunities for women.

He showed the AP a letter of invitation for his brother from Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi.

“He is completely losing hope in life, and this is the most difficult period a human being might reach,” Zakka said in an interview in Beirut earlier this month, adding that he had urged his brother to end the hunger strike when he spoke to him by phone.

The family has urged Lebanese President Michel Aoun to raise Zakka’s case when he visits Iran in August. Aoun is a close ally of Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese group.

“We hope that President Aoun will reach a happy ending in this matter,” said Majed Dimashkiyeh, a lawyer for the family who has sent an official letter to Aoun asking him to intervene with Iranian authorities.

Zakka, who used to live in Washington, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region.

The Associated Press reported in May last year that IJMA3 had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 from both the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, USAID.

Ziad Zakka said their mother passed away last July. He said she had sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani through the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, telling them that “my dream is to see Nizar.”

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