Iran: Execution of journalist Rouhollah Zam a ‘deadly blow’ to freedom of expression

Responding to the news that the Iranian authorities hanged dissident journalist Rouhollah Zam today, Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said:

“We are shocked and horrified to learn that the Iranian authorities executed dissident journalist Rouhollah Zam at dawn today.

“On 8 December, authorities announced the Supreme Court had upheld Rouhollah Zam’s death sentence. The authorities rushed to execute Rouhollah Zam a mere four days later, in what we believe was a reprehensible bid to avoid an international campaign to save his life.  

“The use of the death penalty against Rouhollah Zam was strictly prohibited under international law, as he was targeted in connection with his popular news channel AmadNews, which the authorities blamed for the nationwide anti-establishment protests of January 2018. His execution is a deadly blow to freedom of expression in Iran and shows the extent of the Iranian authorities’ brutal tactics to instil fear and deter dissent.

“The world must not stand by in silence as the Iranian authorities take their already horrific attacks on the right to life and freedom expression to unprecedented levels. We call on the international community, including member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the EU, to take immediate action to pressure the Iranian authorities to halt their escalating use of the death penalty as a weapon of political repression.”  


Rouhollah Zam, who had escaped Iran following the post-election protests of 2009 and been granted asylum in France, was abducted during a visit to Iraq in October 2019 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, apparently with the assistance of Iraqi intelligence authorities, and forcibly returned to Iran.

According to a letter written by his father to the Iranian head of the judiciary, following his arrest, he was held without any contact with his family or lawyers for nine months. His father further reported that his son was only allowed to meet with his court-appointed lawyer in the presence of intelligence and security officials.

Rouhollah Zam was sentenced to death by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran in June 2020 following a grossly unfair trial for “spreading corruption on earth” in connection with his popular news channel, AmadNews, that he ran on the messaging app Telegram. The channel, which had more than a million followers, shared videos of protests and information about the alleged involvement of various authority figures in corruption. The authorities claimed both publicly and in court documents that his media work involved “espionage” for Israel and France, “cooperation with the hostile state of the United States”, “crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”

In July 2020, shortly after he was sentenced to death, Iran’s state TV aired a propaganda programme which showed Rouhollah Zam “confessing” to his “crimes”.

According to some media reports, Rouhallah Zam’s family last visited him in prison on the eve of his execution and reported that prison and judicial authorities had not informed either them or the deceased of the scheduled execution.

Under international law, the use of the death penalty must be restricted to the most serious crimes involving intentional killing.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.