Cancellation of The Europe-Iran Business Forum (EIBF)

The Europe-Iran Business Forum (EIBF) was abruptly cancelled last week in the wake of international outcry over the regime’s execution of Iranian dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam. Event organizers ham-handedly postponed—and then later cancelled—the annual event only after European ambassadors pulled out. Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif had been scheduled to open the EIBF on Monday, December 21.

After being captured by the regime and brought to Iran, Zam was sentenced to death and hanged over his role in protests during the winter of 2017-18. Zam ran a popular social media channel that rallied regime opponents at that time. Afterwards, he was forced in exile in Paris and was later granted refugee status in France.

Calling off the EIBF was, in this circumstance, the only appropriate response. Today, European leaders are rightfully appalled by the Islamic Republic’s behavior, but one wonders why the regime’s litany of systematic human rights abuses carried out over the course of more than 40 years were an insufficient deterrent for Europe’s diplomatic community. If freedom of speech, the right to not be illegally kidnapped and imprisoned, the right to a fair trial and humane treatment are indeed values which the EU holds dear, its representatives should never have consented to attend the EIBF in the first place.

Sadly, however, European leadership continues to generate fallacious excuses in defense of the Iranian regime. It begs the question: was the EIBF scrapped because the timing of Zam’s murder created bad optics or because his death is the straw that broke the camel’s back? Had Zam been murdered a week in advance of the EIBF instead of just two days before, would the show have gone on? And what will now become of the EU’s heralded Special Purpose Vehicle to skirt U.S. sanctions and facilitate trade between European businesses and the regime, or the calls to come for tens of millions more in foreign aid to support the leadership in Tehran?

Instead of holding its nose for a brief moment, Europe should wake up and smell the roses. The Islamic Republic’s behaviour is repugnant, and it must be treated accordingly and consistently.

Zam’s murder is yet another abhorrent example of the lengths the regime will go to silence dissidence. His death has been rightly met with international outcry and protest, and he will be remembered, among many accolades, for his role in helping to publicize the news of the uprising at a time when the country was trying to suppress information.