Iranian authorities sentenced a permanent U.S. resident who advocates for Internet freedom to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, his attorney confirmed Tuesday.
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen, was also fined more than $4 million. His D.C.-based lawyer, Jason Poblete, told the Wall Street Journal the Iranian government targeted Zakka because of his ties to the U.S. and is using him as political leverage.
Zakka was arrested last year after traveling to the Islamic Republic to attend a conference at the invitation of the Iranian government. Authorities later accused him of spying for the U.S.
"As Nizar has bravely maintained throughout his unlawful detention, he is innocent and being used as a political pawn," Poblete said. "We reject these sham proceedings and this verdict."
Despite ongoing efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran, Iranian authorities have detained a number of dual nationals and people with connections abroad in recent months. Many of those arrested were accused of espionage.
Though Zakka is not an American citizen, he has worked on behalf of the U.S. government through a D.C.-based Arab information and communications technology consortium called IJMA3. The nonprofit group, which he helped found in 2005, has worked on projects for the State Department and Agency for International Development.
Zakka has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, according to the Journal. Poblete said he intends to appeal the decision.
Amnesty International said Friday that Zakka’s health has declined significantly and he has yet to receive medical care.
An Iranian delegation will attend United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York this week. Poblete hopes the conference will draw greater attention to Zakka’s case.