NEW YORK—The assassination of Iraqi novelist Alaa Mashzoub, who was murdered on his way home by an anonymous motorcycle gunman, is a horrific attack on creative expression in Iraq, PEN America said in a statement today.

The city’s police force reportedly stated that Mashzoub was shot multiple times after being intercepted by a gunman on a motorcycle while heading to his house in the city of Karbala on February 2, 2019. While the motive and the perpetrators remain unknown, commentary on Iraqi public forums speculated that a recent Facebook post, in which Mashzoub spoke out about Ayatollah Khomeini, the former supreme leader of Iran, may be linked to his murder. Mashzoub had previously been openly critical of Iran’s interference in Iraqi domestic affairs, sectarianism, and militias.

“We mourn the loss of a prominent intellectual and writer in Iraq, and call for a robust investigation into his murder,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “It is critical that those who are willing to raise their voices and express dissident viewpoints in Iraq have the freedom to do so. Holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime accountable is of paramount importance in preserving freedom of expression and a vibrant cultural and civic life in Iraq.”

A well-regarded writer, Mashzoub had published 20 books and won several local and regional literary awards, as well as being active in local culture and civil society. Iraq’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Abdul-Amir Al-Hamdani stated that: “the cultural hub has lost one of its finest writers and creators,” and the national writers’ union also condemned the murder. Iraq remains a dangerous country for writers and journalists, with cases reported regularly of threats, detentions, and other forms of harassment.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org