The relatives of Nizar Zakka, the Lebanese information technology expert who was detained by the Iranian authorities last September , are urging the Lebanese authorities to press for his release by Iran because his health has deteriorated as a result of his hunger strike.
Zakka, who is the secretary general of the professional computers association of Lebanon (PCA) and the Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3), and vice president of the World IT and Services Alliance (WITSA), was detained in Iran while on his way to the Airport.
It was only in late October that the Iranian media announced his arrest on charges of spying.
State TV said at the time Zakka was a “treasure trove” because of “connections with intelligence and military bodies in the U.S.”
Zakka was reportedly invited by an Iranian organization to give a speech at an international conference . He left his hotel as soon as he delivered his speech .
Zakka’s health is deteriorating as a result of his hunger strike, his family warned, saying he has not eaten since March 13th.
The Lebanese government has so far not acted to secure his release.
His brother Ziad has urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an open letter “to help Nizar return to his freedom and family.”
Nizar “is innocent,” he stressed in the letter that was posted on a Facebook support page.
He added that the detainee “has not been allowed to see any representative from the Lebanese Embassy in Tehran, nor the Iranian lawyer appointed for him despite repeated requests by the family.”
Zakka reportedly received an invitation from the Vice President of Women and Family Affairs in Iran, Ms. Shahynodcht Mulorda, to attend the international conference on the role of women in sustainable development, under the title “Entrepreneurship and Employment” of women.
In addition to his Lebanese nationality Zakka is also a US permanent resident ( green card holder) .
Those who know Zakka said an image of him in army-style fatigues shown on Iranian state TV came from him recently taking part in a homecoming parade as an alumnus of his military high school in Georgia.
Jim Benson, the president of Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, said the Iranian state TV even identified the wrong man in the image as Zakka.
“He’s a good and decent man. There’s nothing subversive about him,” Benson told The Associated Press. “We’re terribly worried about him and concerned about how his family is taking all of this.”
Zakka’s family has not received any official information about him, despite repeated requests to authorities in Tehran and Beirut his lawyer Antoine Abou Dib told AP last November . The lawyer stressed that Zakka has never had any links with any foreign intelligence agencies.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said last November that officials were aware of Zakka’s case. However, “U.S. lawful permanent residents are not U.S. passport holders and would travel on the passport of their nationality,” she said. “Consular assistance would be provided by the country of the individual’s nationality.”
The Iranian state TV report claimed Zakka had “deep links” with U.S. intelligence services and its military. It also aired a still photo of four men in U.S. Army-style uniforms, two carrying flags and the other two with rifles against their shoulders ( the photo that the president of Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville referred to .
Riverside Military Academy teaches both middle-school and high-school age boys. Though borrowing from military-style structure and discipline, the school does not teach boys how to shoot nor does it have links with the U.S. military, Benson said.
“The fact that he’s in that uniform that day is nothing but a one day in one year event where he was representing the alumni of his class in the color guard,” Benson said.
Riverside’s website lists Zakka as an alumnus and describes him as “an internationally recognized expert in information and communications technology (ICT) policy.” It said he graduated from the academy in 1985 and later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Texas.