The family of a Lebanese man who has been held in Iran for nearly two years said Tuesday his condition is deteriorating three weeks after he went on a hunger strike.
Nizar Zakka, 50, was rushed to a hospital on Sunday, where he refused an IV, his brother Ziad told The Associated Press. He said his brother is prepared to die if he is not released, and refused to sign documents in Farsi, a language he doesn’t understand.
Zakka , who has permanent U.S. residency disappeared Sept. 18 , 2015 while visiting Tehran for a state-sponsored conference, according to a statement from the Washington-based group IJMA3-USA, which advocates for Internet freedom across the Middle East. Zakka was last seen leaving his hotel in a taxi for the airport to fly to Beirut, but he never boarded his flight, according to his Lebanese lawyer Antoine Abou Dib. Two weeks after his abduction Iranian state TV reported that he was in custody and suspected of “deep links” with U.S. intelligence services.
It showed what it described as an incriminating photo of Zakka and three other men in army-style uniforms, two with flags and two with rifles on their shoulders. But the photo was actually from a homecoming event at Zakka’s prep school, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, according to the school’s president and his brother.
Last September, Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine after being convicted of espionage by a security court.
Zakka’s family denies the allegations. His brother said he had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of sustainable development and providing more economic opportunities for women. He showed the AP a letter of invitation for his brother from Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi.
“He is completely losing hope in life, and this is the most difficult period a human being might reach,” Zakka said in an interview in Beirut, adding that he had urged his brother to end the hunger strike when he spoke to him by phone early Tuesday.
The family has urged President Michel Aoun to raise Zakka’s case when he visits Iran in August. Aoun is a close ally of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
“We hope that President Aoun will reach a happy ending in this matter,” said Majed Dimashkiyeh, a lawyer for the family who has sent an official letter to Aoun asking him to intervene with Iranian authorities.
Zakka, who used to live in Washington, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region.
Zakka ‘s mother passed away last July. She reportedly sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani through the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, telling them “my dream is to see Nizar.”
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