US sanctions two Iranians over FBI agent’s disappearance

Special The US for the first time on Monday accused Iran of direct involvement in the “probable death” of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished 13 years ago. (AFP/File Photo)
The US for the first time on Monday accused Iran of direct involvement in the “probable death” of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished 13 years ago. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 15 December 2020

US sanctions two Iranians over FBI agent’s disappearance

The US for the first time on Monday accused Iran of direct involvement in the “probable death” of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished 13 years ago. (AFP/File Photo)
  • US slaps sanctions on two senior Iranian officials over kidnap and presumed death of former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson
  • Iran also faces further international condemnation over execution of journalist Ruhollah Zam

CHICAGO: The Iranian regime on Monday faced a chorus of condemnation following the killing of an Iranian journalist, and additional US sanctions over the suspected murder of a retired FBI agent who was kidnapped more than 13 years ago.

UN officials and Iranian activists denounced the execution of dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, the publisher of the online AmadNews. The expatriate Iranian, who fled Iran more than a decade ago and was granted Asylum in France, was kidnapped in October 2019 while working in Iraq and sentenced to death by the Iranian regime in June this year. He was executed on Saturday.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions on two senior Iranian officials as part of the continuing investigation into the presumed death of Robert A. Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran on March 9, 2007.

“For 13 years, the Iranian regime has denied knowledge of Robert A. ‘Bob’ Levinson’s whereabouts or condition,” he said. “However, senior Iranian officials authorized Levinson’s abduction and detention and launched a disinformation campaign to deflect blame from the regime.

“Today, the US is designating two senior officials of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), who were involved in the abduction of Mr. Levinson on Iran’s Kish Island on or about March 9, 2007. Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, acting in their capacity as MOIS officers, were involved in the abduction, detention and probable death of Mr. Levinson.”

The MOIS was previously sanctioned for being complicit in “serious human-rights abuses” targeting Iranian civilians protesting against fraudulent elections held on June 12, 2009 in Iran.

“The Iranian regime has a 41-year history of abducting and detaining foreigners and dual nationals as political leverage,” Pompeo added.

“We reiterate our strong warning to US citizens and dual nationals that traveling to Iran may jeopardize their personal safety. The abduction, detention and probable death of Mr. Levinson is another egregious example of the regime’s callous disregard toward human life.”

Levinson’s family issued a statement on Monday in which they said: “Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the US government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done.

“We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away. We expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob’s return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable.”

The Iranian regime announced this weekend that Zam had been executed by hanging the morning of Saturday, Dec. 12.

“Ruhollah Zam was kidnapped by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s agents while on a trip to Iraq and was taken to Iran and illegally detained to face bogus charges,” the Union for Secular Republic and Human Rights in Iran (USRHRI) said on Monday. “These actions are all too common by countries governed by dictators who want to silence their critics.

“We vehemently condemn this heinous act and expect the international community to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for yet another tragic, unlawful killing. We also ask that the government of Iraq is held accountable for its part in Ruhollah Zam’s death and for failing to have adequate safeguards in place.”

Zam’s father was a confidant of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic’s government. Instead of using his father’s connections to build a career in the regime, Zam instead launched the online AmadNews, which was fiercely critical of the regime.

“This is not the first time (agents of Iran have) kidnapped or killed Iranian citizens outside of its borders. On numerous occasions we have witnessed similar actions in Iraq, Turkey and many other neighboring countries, as well as across the world,” the USRHRI said.

“Iran is ranked one of the top three countries in the world for the number of executions; this must stop immediately. We urge the UN, as an international body that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of, to investigate Ruhollah Zam’s murder and take immediate action to put an end to extrajudicial murders and the execution of Iranian citizens.”

UN experts Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, condemned the killing of Zam.

“It is clear that Ruhollah Zam was executed for expressing opinions and providing information on AmadNews that dissented from the official views of the Iranian Government,” they said.

“Iran must end its systematic use of the judicial process to impose arbitrary detention and death sentences against human-rights defenders, journalists and other individuals who express dissent against the Government through the free exercise of their internationally recognized human rights.”

A number of European nations pulled out of a planned Europe-Iran Business Forum in protest over the execution of Zam. The three-day online event was postponed on Sunday, the day before it was scheduled to begin. The ambassadors of France, Germany, Austria and Italy were among those who withdrew. Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif were due to be among the keynote speakers.