London, 19 Jul – The health of a Lebanese man held prisoner in Iran for almost two years in rapidly deteriorating after three weeks on hunger strike, according to his family.
Nizar Zakka, 50, was rushed to hospital on Sunday, but refused an IV.
His brother Ziad said that Zakka is prepared to die unless he is released from Iranian custody and is refusing to sign documents in Farsi, a language he does not speak.
Zakka, who has permanent residency in the US, went missing in September 2015 on a trip to Iran.
Two weeks later, it was reported on Iranian state TV that he was being held in prison under suspicion of “deep links” to the US intelligence services.
The news report showed what they claimed was an incriminating photo of Zakka; posing with other men in army-style uniforms, with two holding flags and two holding rifles. This photo was taken at a homecoming event at Zakka’s prep school, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, according to both the school’s president and Ziad.
Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay a $4.2 million fine after being convicted of espionage in an Iranian court last September.
Zakka’s family denies the allegations and report that he was invited by Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi to attend a conference where President Hassan Rouhani spoke about sustainable development and economic opportunities for women.
The invitation was shown to the Associated Press by Ziad.
Ziad, who has urged his brother to end the hunger strike, said: “He is completely losing hope in life, and this is the most difficult period a human being might reach.”
The family are also urging Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a close ally of Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah, to raise Zakka’s case with the Regime when he visits Iran in August.
Majed Dimashkiyeh, the family’s lawyer who wrote to Aoun, said: “We hope that President Aoun will reach a happy ending in this matter.”
Zakka, who used to live in Washington, is the leader of the Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3), an association from 13 countries that advocate for information technology in the Middle East.
According to the Associated Press in 2016, IJMA3 had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants from both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), since 2009.
Zakka’s mother passed away in July 2016 and shortly before her death, she wrote to Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Rouhani through the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, telling them that her “dream [was] to see Nizar.”