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Released Lebanese businessman Zakka: ‘I was virtually sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’

Released Lebanese businessman Zakka: ‘I was virtually sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’ BEIRUT: Nizar Zakka, who has barely been out of Tehran’s Evin Prison 24 hours after spending nearly four years in it, still feels the impact of what happened to him. After his release, Zakka summarized what happened to him — his tears streamed down…

Released Lebanese businessman Zakka: ‘I was virtually sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’

Released Lebanese businessman Zakka: ‘I was virtually sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’

BEIRUT: Nizar Zakka, who has barely been out of Tehran’s Evin Prison 24 hours after spending nearly four years in it, still feels the impact of what happened to him.

After his release, Zakka summarized what happened to him — his tears streamed down his face more than once during the interview.

Zakka said he visited Iran only four times previously on official invitations, and on a fifth after an invitation from the country’s vice president to participate in a conference on informatics. 

“Three days after my participation in the conference, I did not feel that I was an unwanted guest and had not received any remarks. On my way back to the airport, a car with people in civilian clothes intercepted us. They took me out of the car and spoke to me in English saying that no one would see me anymore,” he told Arab News.

“They arrested me, and said that they would kill me. There was no explanation for what happened, and I was tortured. They asked me to say on camera that I was working with the Americans and I planned on overthrowing the regime in Iran. I was there because of an official invitation. So, I refused their request. I felt that if it was going to end in death, why not resist what was happening to me unjustly?

“They knew that I was innocent, but it seems that they wanted to send a message. The kidnappers were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and they wanted to show that they could do what they wanted. I was an activist in the field of human rights and had free access to the internet, and expressed my opinion at a conference in Tehran. They exploited this as a weak link for international companies, to send them a message that they are forbidden to enter Iran. They succeeded, they stopped coming to Iran — they feared their safety.”

Sham trial

Regarding the trial he was subjected to, he smiled. “It was only for show. I stood in front of the judge and they began to mock me. One of them said that I was detained for inciting the revolution in Ukraine. I laughed and told the judge they had the wrong file. The representative of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps read out the accusations, without asking me a single question, and that’s how I was sentenced. The cell I stayed in had 50 detainees living in the worst conditions.”

He said that in the cell, he knew Americans Ziyu Wang and Karen Godafari, former Iranian Vice President Hamid Mashaki, and Mahdi Rafsanjani, the son of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. He said that he also met “an Iraqi detainee and many Iranians, Kurds and Arabs. There were many Iranian diplomats, all accused of treachery because it is the easiest charge.

“Every person who was arrested was subjected to physical torture of all kinds, which later turned into a psychological torture. I slept every night hoping not to wake up the next day.”

As for his contact with the outside world, Zakka said: “At first they allowed us to call family members, but only for 4 minutes that would go by without speaking, and later, when they transferred me to the public prison, those who ran it allowed us a 15-minute phone call. They dealt with us more compassionately than the Revolutionary Guard did.

I was physically and mentally tortured to a point where I wished for death.

Nizar Zakka, Lebanese businessman

“A year ago, I met with the director general of the Lebanese Directorate of General Security, but nothing happened. I lost hope. I was informed that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil spoke about my release date during Ramadan. The month went by, then Eid came, and nothing happened. Two days ago, those who imprisoned me came to tell me that I would be released.”

Zakka believes that the reason for his change of fortunes was the internal discussions in the Iranian regime over how to proceed with new Lebanese President Michel Aoun. “The Iranians wanted to present a gift to Aoun. It (his release) may have been a message to Lebanon, but perhaps there is something else. The Japanese prime minister (Shinzo Abe), who comes to Tehran, is the son of a foreign minister (Shintaro Abe) who played the biggest role in ending the war between Iran and Iraq.”

Aoun has so far avoided visiting Iran, despite several calls for him to do so. Political sources in Beirut believe that Aoun “takes into account the international community opposing Iran, and the internal Lebanese position critical of its interference in Arab countries.”

Celebrations

Zakka said that after announcing his release, he was accompanied by several Iranian civilians to the market and bought a cake to celebrate. 

They also took him to the carpet market and asked him to choose the most expensive one. They chose one for $10,000 as a gift, and officers from the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the prosecutor’s office were asked to apologize to Zakka. A red carpet was also laid out at a private airport in Tehran as Zakka left Iran.

When asked if he had received calls from the US Embassy in Beirut after his release, Zakka said: “There are friends at the embassy who are calling to check.”

When he was arrested, he was 48 years old. Today he is 52. “Four years of my life were lost,” he lamented. “I watched my children grow up. I want to go to the US to see them. I miss them so much.”

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Middle East News

Israel: Palestinian killed, 2 Israelis hurt in car ramming

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill,…

Israel: Palestinian killed, 2 Israelis hurt in car ramming

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were also present.Pompeo also reassured Hariri of “the commitment of the United States to support Lebanon and its institutions, to preserve its security and stability, and to procure the needs of the Lebanese people.”He also praised “Lebanon’s commitment to providing support to more than one million Syrian refugees residing on its soil, who have fled the injustice of the Assad regime.”“We call for continuing the discussions related to the remaining points related to the Blue Line (the UN’s border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) and the Lebanese maritime borders (with Israel). We are ready to mediate the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel and hope to reach concrete results,” Pompeo added.After the meeting, Hariri said he hoped to “reach a conclusive decision in the upcoming months regarding the border demarcation negotiations.” He thanked the US for its “continuous support for the Lebanese Army,” and restated Lebanon’s commitment to fighting terrorism.He also noted Lebanon’s “continuous support for the Cedar Conference (of international investors) and its investment plan, which is highly necessary to the Lebanese economy.” During a Cedar conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon secured pledges of $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, which are dependent on economic reforms.Earlier, Hariri spent more than an hour with David Malpas, president of the World Bank, during which he assured the financier: “Lebanon’s relationship with the World Bank is very important and we continue to cooperate in various sectors, especially electricity, telecommunications and waste management.”The prime minister said that he also explained to Malbas “the challenges that we face in Lebanon on the economic and political levels.”Regarding the IMF’s reluctance to cooperate with Lebanon, Hariri said: “The IMF focuses mainly on the financial situation, while the World Bank is our partner and we are executing many projects with them.”Asked whether or not his meetings in Washington made him optimistic that Lebanon’s credit rating will improve, Hariri said: “I know that Lebanon’s financial figures are critical and we have a great challenge with (credit rating agency) Standard & Poor’s, and we are working on improving our rating. However, this does not mean that our situation is not good; on the contrary, we are taking all necessary steps that would lead us to safety. The most important thing is not to respond to bad news by not performing our duties, and to reach safety.”Lebanese authorities are awaiting the latest Standard & Poor’s report, which is due to be released on Aug. 23. They fear the nation’s credit rating will be downgraded to CCC, which would have negative repercussions on its economy, the banking sector and on the value of the Lebanese pound, especially given the strained political situation in the country at a time when it needs to begin implementing reforms required by Cedar investors.Hariri was concluding a visit to Washington that comes less than a week after the Lebanese government reconvened following 40 days of inactivity in the wake of an incident in Mount Lebanon on June 30, during which two bodyguards working for Minister for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib were shot and killed. This led to a political standoff between Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, leader of the Democratic Party and an ally of Al-Gharib, who each blamed the other’s supporters for the violence. A reconciliation agreement was reached on Aug. 9.During his visit, Hariri also met Undersecretary of Defense John Rudd. They discussed “ways to support the Lebanese army and the security forces,” according to the prime minister’s office. He also met with Treasury officials, including Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, in light of the announcement by the US of fresh sanctions on Hezbollah officials. On July 9, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Hezbollah MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and on Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.The US accuses Hezbollah of “using its members in the Lebanese Parliament to manipulate institutions to support the financial and security interests of the terrorist group and to promote malicious activities of Iran.” It also accuses Hezbollah of “threatening economic stability and security in Lebanon and the region as a whole, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”

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Pompeo praises Lebanese government for standing firm against Iranian threat

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill,…

Pompeo praises Lebanese government for standing firm against Iranian threat

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were also present.Pompeo also reassured Hariri of “the commitment of the United States to support Lebanon and its institutions, to preserve its security and stability, and to procure the needs of the Lebanese people.”He also praised “Lebanon’s commitment to providing support to more than one million Syrian refugees residing on its soil, who have fled the injustice of the Assad regime.”“We call for continuing the discussions related to the remaining points related to the Blue Line (the UN’s border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) and the Lebanese maritime borders (with Israel). We are ready to mediate the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel and hope to reach concrete results,” Pompeo added.After the meeting, Hariri said he hoped to “reach a conclusive decision in the upcoming months regarding the border demarcation negotiations.” He thanked the US for its “continuous support for the Lebanese Army,” and restated Lebanon’s commitment to fighting terrorism.He also noted Lebanon’s “continuous support for the Cedar Conference (of international investors) and its investment plan, which is highly necessary to the Lebanese economy.” During a Cedar conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon secured pledges of $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, which are dependent on economic reforms.Earlier, Hariri spent more than an hour with David Malpas, president of the World Bank, during which he assured the financier: “Lebanon’s relationship with the World Bank is very important and we continue to cooperate in various sectors, especially electricity, telecommunications and waste management.”The prime minister said that he also explained to Malbas “the challenges that we face in Lebanon on the economic and political levels.”Regarding the IMF’s reluctance to cooperate with Lebanon, Hariri said: “The IMF focuses mainly on the financial situation, while the World Bank is our partner and we are executing many projects with them.”Asked whether or not his meetings in Washington made him optimistic that Lebanon’s credit rating will improve, Hariri said: “I know that Lebanon’s financial figures are critical and we have a great challenge with (credit rating agency) Standard & Poor’s, and we are working on improving our rating. However, this does not mean that our situation is not good; on the contrary, we are taking all necessary steps that would lead us to safety. The most important thing is not to respond to bad news by not performing our duties, and to reach safety.”Lebanese authorities are awaiting the latest Standard & Poor’s report, which is due to be released on Aug. 23. They fear the nation’s credit rating will be downgraded to CCC, which would have negative repercussions on its economy, the banking sector and on the value of the Lebanese pound, especially given the strained political situation in the country at a time when it needs to begin implementing reforms required by Cedar investors.Hariri was concluding a visit to Washington that comes less than a week after the Lebanese government reconvened following 40 days of inactivity in the wake of an incident in Mount Lebanon on June 30, during which two bodyguards working for Minister for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib were shot and killed. This led to a political standoff between Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, leader of the Democratic Party and an ally of Al-Gharib, who each blamed the other’s supporters for the violence. A reconciliation agreement was reached on Aug. 9.During his visit, Hariri also met Undersecretary of Defense John Rudd. They discussed “ways to support the Lebanese army and the security forces,” according to the prime minister’s office. He also met with Treasury officials, including Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, in light of the announcement by the US of fresh sanctions on Hezbollah officials. On July 9, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Hezbollah MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and on Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.The US accuses Hezbollah of “using its members in the Lebanese Parliament to manipulate institutions to support the financial and security interests of the terrorist group and to promote malicious activities of Iran.” It also accuses Hezbollah of “threatening economic stability and security in Lebanon and the region as a whole, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”

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Saudi-UAE committee in Aden ‘to oversee separatists withdrawal’

JEDDAH: A Saudi-UAE committee arrived in Aden Thursday to oversee the withdrawal of southern separatist troops from positions they seized last week from the government. The delegation arrived in the temporary Yemeni capital to ensure troops loyal to the Southern Transitional Council leave government institutions, Al Arabiya reported, citing a Yemeni government source. Yemeni presidential…

Saudi-UAE committee in Aden ‘to oversee separatists withdrawal’

JEDDAH: A Saudi-UAE committee arrived in Aden Thursday to oversee the withdrawal of southern separatist troops from positions they seized last week from the government.

The delegation arrived in the temporary Yemeni capital to ensure troops loyal to the Southern Transitional Council leave government institutions, Al Arabiya reported, citing a Yemeni government source.

Yemeni presidential guard forces took over Al-Maasheeq palace after the STC withdrew following calls from the Arab Coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the source said.

The government has ruled out talks with the STC until it hands over to the presidential guard all the positions it captured.

The separatists and the government, who are meant to be on the same side in the fight against the Houthis, clashed for several days after tensions overspilled at a commander’s funeral. 

The separatists seized the palace on Saturday and at least 40 people, including civilians, were killed in the fighting.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Monday urged forces in the city to observe a ceasefire.

The call followed talks in Mina between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Also Thursday, thousands of Yemenis rallied in Aden in support of the separatists.

South Yemen was an independent country until it merged with the north in 1990.

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