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Nizar Zakka, Invited & Kidnapped in Iran

Internet Freedom Advocate

Mr. Nizar Zakka is a Lebanese National (and Sunni Muslim)

who has been a U.S. Permanent Resident since 2013. He owns a
home and 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

A part of The Global Rule of Law & Liberty Legal Defense Fund Mr. Nizar Zakka, Hostage in Iran Page 1 of 3.
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.

On September 11, 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
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told employment at the Second International Conference &
reporters that “[w]hat happened to Mr. Zakka Exhibition on Women in Sustainable Development in
is not a problem between Iran and Lebanon,” Tehran.
but rather “the problem is actually between
the United States and Iran,” (Naharnet, Nov.
Nizar and four colleagues travelled to Tehran and
7, 2016).
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 country as part of his work. The prior year, he
and his team helped the Iranian ICT community host its first ever ICT Persia Week as well as create Iran’s
first IGF entity. On September 18th, Nizar was scheduled to travel to 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 3, 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 nine 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 the late 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

Mr. Nizar Zakka, Hostage in Iran

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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. Both the House and Senate versions were agreed to by unanimous consent.
Nizar’s name is also included in the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act of 2017 that
passed the House on April 26, 2018, by a vote of 410-2.

After several efforts within and outside of the United States to raise the profile of Nizar’s case, Shahindokht
Molaverdi went on the record in an interview with the Associated Press in September 2018. “This is in no
way approved by the government,” Molaverdi said. “We did all we could to stop this from happening, but
we are seeing that we have failed to make a significant impact.”

Support from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs was renewed in March 2019 during a hearing hosted
by the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism. The hearing titled “The
Status of American Hostages in Iran” included testimony from family members of many hostages currently
detained. Nizar’s youngest son, Mr. Omar Zakka, spoke to the Congress for a second time about his father’s
unlawful detention urging the U.S. government to take all available legal and diplomatic measures to
reunite Nizar with his family. In April 2019, Department of State Secretary Mike Pompeo hosted the
families of American citizens and U.S Legal Permanent residents held captive abroad. Secretary Pompeo
met with Omar and others to discuss his father’s case. The Zakka family continues to tirelessly advocate for
Nizar’s release.

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