TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said Monday it arrested an exiled journalist who helped fan the flames of nationwide economic protests that struck the country at the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Iran's president said his country was prepared to begin using even more-advanced centrifuges as its nuclear deal with world powers collapses.
The Guard and a later announcement on state television did not explain how authorities detained Ruhollah Zam, who ran a website called AmadNews that posted embarrassing videos and information about Iranian officials. He had been living and working in exile in Paris.
The Guard said Zam was "guided into the country" before the arrest. His channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram was apparently taken hold of, too, as a message noting his arrest went to its 1 million subscribers.
An announcement on state television called Zam a "special prey." It said his detention was a victory of the Guard's intelligence department over Western services.
The report described Zam as the head of network of psychological warfare by Iran's enemies. The Guard alleged Zam was supported by the intelligence services of the U.S., France and Israel, something the journalist long denied. French officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
A channel he ran on Telegram spread messages about upcoming protests in 2017 and shared videos from the demonstrations, which occurred across some 75 cities and towns. While the protests ultimately stopped, Iran's economy has worsened after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions on its oil industry.
Telegram shut down the channel over Iranian government complaints it spread information about how to make gasoline bombs. The channel later continued under a different name.
It's hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80 million people, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.
While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.
Zam, 46, once was detained during turmoil following the disputed 2009 presidential election that led to re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Zam is the son of Shiite cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, a reformist who once served in a government policy position in the early 1980s. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July 2017 in which he said he wouldn't support his son over AmadNews' reporting and messages on its Telegram channel.
"I found that you crossed the red line," the cleric wrote, referring to comments the channel circulated about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "Our red line is the supreme leader, but you passed the red line."
Later Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced his nation would begin working with advanced IR-9 centrifuges. It's unclear what those centrifuges can do, though Iran has a host of advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium more rapidly than those allowed under the accord.
"Soon IR-9 centrifuges will begin working," Rouhani told journalists at a news conference. "IR-7 will begin to work, too."
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.