(New York, NY) — PEN America today said it was devastated to learn of the horrific execution this weekend of Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam, whose work online helped spark nationwide protests in 2017. Iranian officials used a ploy to lure the France-based journalist to Iraq, where he was abducted. PEN America said that his execution shows the extent to which Iran’s leaders will go to stanch dissent.

“We are devastated and horrified to learn of Ruhollah’s execution,” said PEN America’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs. “It makes all too clear the astonishing and brutal lengths to which the Iranian regime will go to silence free expression and quash dissent, even beyond their borders. Ruhollah’s extraterritorial abduction and now execution are atrocious violations of human rights and of international law. Especially as Iranian voices of dissent outside the country continue to face persistent and alarming threats, it is imperative that the international community make clear such actions are unacceptable. We grieve his loss, and stand alongside all those who believe in freedom of expression and the press in condemning this heinous act.” 

Zam was 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 while traveling in Iraq and was taken into Iranian state custody in what the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps referred to as a “sophisticated and professional operation” to “guide” him into the country. Upon his detention, PEN America condemned Iran’s actions. In June, Zam was found guilty of “corruption on earth,” a charge often used to prosecute opposition to the Iranian state, and sentenced to death.