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IRAN: Execution of Ruhollah Zam - Iranians should not trade their lives for their freedom of expression

Wednesday 16 December 2020 - 10:51am

Ruhollah Zam

PEN International is appalled by the summary execution of exiled Iranian journalist and activist Ruhollah Zam on Saturday,12 December. He was executed just a few days after the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against him on 8 December.

Zam was the director of the popular Amad News channel that has over a million followers and which has covered anti-government protests and published information on corruption by government officials. The channel was carried on the Telegram messaging app which has been banned by the Iranian government which sees it as a risk to national security. Despite this, Telegram remains the most popular social media site in Iran. Zam had been living in exile in France since 2009 where had been granted asylum. He was abducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in October 2019 while he was visiting Iraq.

His family have said that they were not informed that the execution was to take place on Saturday morning, although they visited him on Friday, they did not know it was the last time they would see him. The execution comes amid serious allegations made by Zam’s family of ill-treatment and unfair trial. According to a letter written by his father to the Iranian head of the Judiciary, they were not able to see Zam for nine months following his arrest. Also, he was denied access to a lawyer of his choice, and he only met with the court-appointed lawyer in presence of security agents.

Responding to the execution, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:

“Ruhollah Zam's cruel execution is shocking at multiple levels. It goes without saying that death penalty is unconscionable and should be abolished. Imposing such a punishment on a writer who was a refugee, who was abducted from Iraq and taken to Iran, who was tried without due process, and who was executed with remarkable speed as if to prevent the inevitable global outrage it would provoke, shows the utterly callous, ruthless, and cynical outlook of Iran's authorities. Ruhollah has left us; the curiosity that made him a reporter, the courage which he showed, the conviction that he had, and the commitment to truth-telling that he possessed will continue to inspire other writers and journalists, and continue to haunt the Iranian state”

PEN International strongly condemns the killing of Ruhollah Zam, which represents an abhorrent desecration of the sanctity of human life, and a grave blow to freedom of expression in Iran. It calls upon on the Iranian government to end its systematic targeting of journalists, writers, activists and critics, and to immediately stop the use of death penalty against them. Iranians should not be trading their lives for their silence.