Lebanese IT expert Nizar Zakka, who arrived in Beirut on Tuesday following his release from prison in Iran, said he was innocent of Iran’s spying accusations and noted that imprisonment only made him stronger to defend freedom of speech.
“I went to a country (Iran) upon an official invitation, and I was abducted,” he told reporters from Baabda’s presidential palace.
“Nothing in me has changed. I am still strong and steadfast. My head is held high. Only one thing has changed in me, I am more resolute to defend human rights, freedom of speech, and the right to internet access,” Zakka said.
Zakka was detained in Iran in 2015, after arriving in the country to participate in a conference on women’s entrepreneurship. He was invited to the event by Shahindokht Molaverdi, Iran’s then-vice president for women and family affairs. In 2016, he was convicted of spying, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and fined $4.2 million.
“I’ve spent three years, eight months and 24 days in prison. During this time, you (the Lebanese people) were the real support that helped me resist injustice, weariness, despair, pain, and oppression,” he told the press after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Zakka told reporters he will not address the circumstances of his detention and the accusations made against him by Iran.
“But let me tell you one thing. Prior to my detention, I have never (even) harmed an ant. I am still the same person I was before I was arrested, and I have been the same during my detention, and I am still the same afterward,” he said.
Zakka said he was not an agent and rejected the spying charges made against him by Iran saying: “I do not want to engage in the details of the abduction, imprisonment, false accusations, the investigation process, and the trial.”
Commenting on media reports that his release was a result of a deal, Zakka, who holds an American Green Card, said the initiative to release him was Lebanese par excellence.
“The initiative was born in Lebanon, tailored in Lebanon, and it’s now concluding in Lebanon,” he said, adding that the initiative had “positive results” regionally as it seems “it stopped a lot of what could have happened in the region.”
Aoun's request to Rouhani
Lebanon’s General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, who accompanied Zakka to the presidential palace, told reporters that Zakka was released as a result of Aoun’s letter and request to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Ibrahim refused to comment on questions on whether Zakka was implicated or not and said this was something that Iranian authorities decide.
“Neither I nor you (the media) decide on this,” he told reporters, adding that it was the Lebanese state’s duty to help its citizens across the world even if they violate the laws of whatever country they reside in.
Commenting on the Fars news report, which quoted a source as saying that the decision to release Zakka was taken only “upon the request and mediation of Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah,” Abbas said that he told President Aoun about his meetings in Iran over the past 24 hours, in which all remarks stated that the decision to release Zakka was made upon Aoun’s request.
A message to the international community
Makram Rabah, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, told Al Arabiya English that Zakka’s release conveys a message to the international community, particularly the European community, which was still trying to find a kind of an excuse to stay in the nuclear deal.
“I think that Zakka will be used by Iran to appeal more and more to the Europeans who are slowly thinking about leaving the nuclear deal and joining the US in sanctions against Iran,” Rabah said.
Commenting on the Fars news report regarding Hezbollah’s mediation, Rabah said such remarks were “not innocent.”
“They certainly want to remind everyone that it’s Hezbollah who can protect Lebanon even if (it) protects Lebanon from the Iranians themselves. They always want to remind people that Aoun is their puppet at the end of the day. This is something they have done continuously and they will continue to do so. Hence it’s not an innocent (remark) or a mistake by the Fars news agency,” he said, adding that such statements also aim to “remind everyone that everything happens in Lebanon after it’s sanctioned by Iran.”
Rabah added that the Lebanese state “has nothing to do with the release of Zakka,” and that its attempt “to project the image of a strong president and a strong deep state is fallacious.”
“Zakka was abducted and the regime in Iran is using this as a PR stunt,” he added.