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Nizar Zakka, Invited & Kidnapped in Iran

Internet Freedom Advocate, Prisoner of Conscience

Mr. Nizar Zakka is a Lebanese National (and Sunni Muslim)
who has been a U.S. Permanent Resident since 2013. He resides
in Washington, D.C. Nizar strongly believes in the power of
technology to provide educational and economic opportunities
for all people across the Middle East and North Africa, and has
dedicated his life’s work towards furthering that goal.

Born outside Tripoli, Nizar lived in Lebanon until his teenage
years. Like many of his generation, due to the civil war, he left
Lebanon to pursue greater educational opportunities. His parents
enrolled him in Riverside Military Academy, a private college
preparatory all-boys boarding school in Gainesville, Georgia, for
grades 7-12.

Nizar graduated from the University of Texas, where he earned
dual degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics (1990).
Upon graduation he worked as a computer software consultant
with Brown & Root in Houston, Texas. He returned to Lebanon to further his career in Information
Technology, founding several IT companies and serving as a consultant in the IT sector across the Middle
East.

In 1996, Nizar joined the Professional Computer Association (PCA) — a computer industry trade
association — in Lebanon, which was a consortium of 110 member companies working in the IT industry in
Lebanon. In 2002, he was appointed the CEO of the PCA, which made him responsible for promoting the
Lebanese IT industry and community initiatives to utilize ICT tools for development. Nizar is also a Middle
East and North Africa Vice President for the World Information Technology and Services Alliance
(WITSA). WITSA is a consortium of IT industry association members from over 80 countries around the
world, and represents over 90% of the world ICT market.

In 2005, Nizar was one of the founding members of The Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3), which was
formed to represent a regional alliance of information and communication technology (ICT) organizations
across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Today, the member organizations represent 18 ICT
organizations, across 14 countries. In addition to being an advocate for the ICT industry, IJMA3 works on
projects in the field of ICT for Development (ICT4D), which aim to promote income generating
opportunities and improved livelihoods for people across the MENA region, particularly youth.

IJMA3’s ICT-for-Development projects have included funding from Mercy Corps, Microsoft, Partnership
for Lebanon (a consortium of five private sector companies: Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, Oxy, and Ghafary), the
Eurasia Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department, the
UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), among other donors to support international
development efforts and initiatives to improve the economic and educational livelihoods of people
worldwide.

Nizar’s past accomplishments include a Youth IT Camp in Lebanon; a program to support the economic
competitiveness of the IT industry in Lebanon; an IT training program on digital literacy for job creation in
Iraq; a feasibility study on how to improve the IT industry in South Sudan; a program to set up an ICT
association in India; implementing ICT strategy under a Community Action Program in Iraq; a computer
vocational skills program to help internally displaced persons in Northern Iraq; and an agricultural
livelihood improvement program utilizing IT for low-income groups in Afghanistan.
Mr. Nizar Zakka, Hostage in Iran
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Nizar Zakka, Invited & Kidnapped in Iran
Internet Freedom Advocate, Prisoner of Conscience

On September 11th, 2015, Nizar Zakka received an
invitation from the Iranian government. The Vice
President of Women and Family Affairs of Iran,
Shahindokht Molaverdi, asked Nizar to travel to Iran to
participate in a conference on entrepreneurship and
employment at the Second International Conference &
Exhibition on Women in Sustainable Development in
Tehran.

Nizar and four colleagues travelled to Tehran and
participated in the conference, where he gave a
presentation on “ICT for Women’s Empowerment.” It was
Nizar’s fifth trip to Iran; he was always welcomed to the
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told
reporters that “[w]hat happened to Mr. country as part of his work. The prior year, he and his
Zakka is not a problem between Iran and team helped the Iranian ICT community host its first ever
Lebanon,” but rather “the problem is ICT Persia Week as well as create Iran’s first IGF entity.
actually between the United Staes and On September 18th, Nizar was scheduled to travel to
Iran,” (Naharnet, Nov. 7, 2016). Beirut, but never arrived. Unofficial reports indicated that
he checked out of his hotel but was arrested while he was
on his way to the airport.

On November 3rd, 2015, the Associated Press reported that the Iranian state-sponsored television station
aired a piece indicating that Nizar Zakka had been arrested, with false accusations of him being an
American spy. Nizar was convicted of espionage, sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as $4.2 million
fine. Nizar has tried to appeal this matter but Iranian authorities repeatedly refused to allow a re-hearing.

Throughout his unlawful detention, Mr. Zakka has maintained his innocence, has refused to sign
confessions, and to protest his situation, has held at least five hunger strikes. He has been subjected to
extreme psychological and physical pressure, including torture. In addition to several Amnesty International
Urgent Action notices, Mr. Zakka has been declared a prisoner of conscience by several international
freedom advocates including Dr. Asma Jahangir, the second United Nations Special Rapporteur of the
Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Iran.

As the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a letter July 19, 2016, the United States
has a “particular obligation” to secure the release of Mr. Zakka. On June 29, 2017, the Middle East and
North Africa Chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), echoed similar sentiments when the
subcommittee voted in favor of H.Res. 317, a resolution calling for the unconditional release of U.S.
citizens and legal permanent resident aliens being held for political purposes by the Government of Iran.

On July 12, 2017, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the identical resolution S.Res. 245 saying in a
statement that the Trump administration make the “unconditional release of imprisoned Americans and
permanent legal residents in Iran a top priority,” adding that as the “Trump administration reviews U.S.
policy toward Iran, I urge the President to make securing the unconditional release of imprisoned Americans
and permanent legal residents in Iran a top priority … [including] Nizar Zakka, who is on his fifth hunger
strike, languishes in Iran’s Evin prison.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ)
co-sponsored the Resolution, which passed in the Senate on November 1, 2017.

Mr. Nizar Zakka, Hostage in Iran
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