(New York, NY) — Today’s announcement that Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam has been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to death is an egregious example not only of the continued attack on dissent and free expression in Iran, but the lengths the state is willing to go to silence opposition in the country, PEN America said today.

Zam is an investigative journalist and activist who ran the news service AmadNews on the messaging app Telegram from France, where he was living as a refugee for nearly ten years. The channel shared information about Iranian officials and was critical to coordination and logistics during countrywide anti-government demonstrations in 2017 and 2018. The Iranian government shut down the channel for inciting protests in December 2017, but Zam opened a new channel that Telegram refused to shut down. In October 2019, Zam disappeared when traveling in Iraq and was taken into Iranian state custody in what the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) referred to as a “sophisticated and professional operation” to “guide” him into the country. Upon his detention, PEN America condemned Iran’s actions. On Tuesday, Zam was found guilty of “corruption on earth,” a charge often used to prosecute opposition to the Iranian state.

“Ruhollah Zam’s death sentence is a flagrant and extreme attack on human rights, and yet another instance of the ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression, a free press, and any form of dissent in Iran,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “Calling for his execution is an abhorrent and absurd response to his peaceful expression, sharing of information, and activism. We unequivocally condemn this ruling and call for Zam’s immediate release and repeal of this sentence.”

The 2017 protests that led to Zam’s arrest began in Mashhad, where the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini was born, over increased food prices. While initially driven by young people in rural areas, the protests rapidly spread throughout the country and solidified into a broader, anti-government movement. Telegram—an encrypted messaging platform—was critical for organizing and coordinating the movement, and channels like Amad News helped spread information and plan protests throughout the country.

The application was barred in Iran in May 2018. State forces cracked down on the protests, and over two dozen protesters were killed in the two most intense weeks of demonstration at the outset of 2018. In the wake of the protests, several outspoken critics of the government were arrested, including rapper Amir Tataloo; Masoud Molavi, a dissident who also ran a Telegram channel; and Fariba Adelkhah, a prominent academic.