Calls to boycott a business conference in Iran have intensified after Tehran executed dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam last week.
Journalists from Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian are slated to speak at the event scheduled to start on Monday, according to the forum’s website, which has drawn criticism due to Iran’s crackdown on the media inside the country and its targeting of journalists both in and out of Iran.
There had already been calls for a boycott of the event due to Iran’s human rights record, but these calls have intensified following Zam’s execution.
Iranian activists, as well as some foreign commentators, have urged diplomats and journalists to cancel their attendance at the conference in protest of Iran’s execution of Zam.
“No one should be promoting business with Iran because that only enriches the regime due to the mafia-like nature of the country’s economy … It is not an open economy, and any profits made from investments would go straight to the regime, rather than to ordinary Iranians,” Cameron Khansarinia, policy director at the Washington-based dissident group National Union for Democracy in Iran, said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“It is unfortunate to see journalists attending this event. I don’t necessarily think their participation is ill-intentioned, but it is simply inappropriate so soon after Zam’s execution … it is an insult to his memory,” Khansarinia said.
The Europe-Iran Business Forum aims to promote business between Europe and Iran, but critics say events only benefit the Iranian regime and “normalize” its suppression of dissent.
Iranian dissidents and rights activists on Twitter launched the hashtag #BoycottEuropeIranBusinessForum to express their opposition to the event that they say “normalizes” the Iranian regime’s behavior.
“Participating in a business development conference with Iran was a bad idea even before Zam’s execution, given the sanctions risks as well as the danger Europeans and dual-nationals face when traveling to Iran,” Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told Al Arabiya English.
Several dual and foreign nationals are also currently under arrest in Iran, including Iranian-Swedish scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and German-Iranian architect Nahid Taghavi.
Iran may soon enforce the death sentence on Djalali who was arrested during a visit to the country in 2016 and sentenced to death in 2017, according to reports in recent weeks.
“In the end, the European desperation to save the nuclear deal is crippling its ability to hold Iran accountable in other areas. And that’s one of the many reasons the agreement was so flawed,” he added.
Tehran hopes to revive its battered economy and reignite economic ties with the West following Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent President Donald Trump in the US presidential election last month.
Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018 as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign. Biden has pledged to rejoin the accord if Iran returns to complying with it.
“After Zam’s execution, it would be shameful for any Western diplomat or company to participate. The regime would see that its actions have no consequences,” Brodsky said.
Zam, who Iran was convicted of inciting violence during anti-government protests in late 2017, was executed on Saturday, state media reported. He ran Amadnews, a channel on popular messaging app Telegram which had over a million followers.
Iranian agents reportedly captured Zam during a visit to Iraq in 2019. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said at the time they had “trapped” Zam in a “complex operation using intelligence deception.”
The Iranian regime is accused of pursuing a “hostage-taking” policy by arresting foreign nationals on trumped-up charges and using them as hostages to try to win concessions from other countries.
Speakers at the conference will include Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and a number of European envoys to Iran, including France’s Ambassador Philippe Thiébaud, the country where Zam had been given political asylum before being captured in Iraq by Iranian intelligence agents.