Mr. Zam’s own story of how he ended up in Iranian detention in the first place remains murky. He left France on Oct. 11, according to the French foreign ministry. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said days later that Mr. Zam had been arrested in a complex operation, according to Iranian news outlets. Mr. Zam’s wife, Mahsa Razani, who is still living in Paris with the couple’s child, said he had disappeared not long after arriving in Baghdad from Paris.
Reza Moini, head of the Iran-Afghanistan desk at Reporters Without Borders, said Mr. Zam was looking for funds to create a television channel and had been lured into a trip to Iraq to meet with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Shia cleric and Khamenei rival who could finance his media venture.
Mr. Zam had received various threats in recent years, Mr. Moini said, and until he left France, he was under police protection.
“Ruhollah Zam was publishing damaging information for Mr. Khamenei’s entourage,” Mr. Moini said. “He had been manipulated a few times by publishing erroneous information coming from the Revolutionary Guards, and he was desperately looking for funds.”
Iraqi intelligence sources said they had no information about his arrest and had not been involved in the operation.
Mr. Zam’s trial began in February, without a defense lawyer, according to Reporters Without Borders. He was accused of spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime, cooperating with the United States and spying for the Israeli and French intelligence services, among other charges.
Iran has long sought to silence opponents, both at home and abroad. In January, the country’s most famous rapper, Amir Tataloo, was detained in Turkey and faced deportation, but was ultimately released. In November, Masoud Molavi, an Iranian dissident who also ran a Telegram channel critical of the leadership, was shot dead in Istanbul in an operation orchestrated by Iranian intelligence services, according to Turkish officials cited by Reuters.