Academics at Risk: Disaster Medicine Expert Faces Imminent Execution in Iran
In April 2016, Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali traveled from his home in Sweden to attend a conference in Iran at the official invitation from the University of Tehran. He hasn’t been home since.
An Iranian-Swedish academic affiliated with Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Italy’s University of Eastern Piedmont, Dr. Djalali was arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence agents. Originally charged with “collaborating with hostile states,” he was later convicted of “moharebeh (enmity against God) through espionage for Israel” by the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, which was also upheld by the Supreme Court.
On December 1, Ahmadreza’s wife Vida learned that her husband had been transferred to solitary confinement. He has since been transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison where his death sentence is to be carried out imminently.
If carried out, it will be one of the first executions of a dual national in Iran, and comes only a week after Iran released the British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Dr. Moore-Gilbert, a Cambridge-educated Middle East scholar at the University of Melbourne, was also detained on espionage charges in September 2018 after attending a conference. Recently released in a prisoner exchange for three Iranians, Dr. Moore-Gilbert described her experience as a “never-ending, unrelenting nightmare.”
An Urgent Response is Needed
Iran Human Rights Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “Ahmadreza Djalali is at imminent risk of execution and only a strong and urgent reaction from the international community can save his life.”
According to his family, Dr. Djalali has been subjected to torture and solitary confinement, conditions under which he signed a coerced confession. During his subsequent court proceedings, he was provided no legal representation. His health severely deteriorating due to detention conditions, he has been systematically denied access to adequate health care.
His story and innocence have been supported by Nature, Amnesty International, over 150 Nobel Laureates, the UN Human Rights Council, and a petition with over 320,000 signatures.
Last week, in a joint letter to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, along with ten international rights organizations including Iran Human Rights, called for immediate action to stop Ahmadreza’s execution.
In response to a plea by the Swedish government, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that “all interference in the issuance or carrying out of judicial decisions is rejected as unacceptable.”
A Violation of International Human Rights
Dr. Djalali’s arrest, conviction, and sentencing violate international human rights standards that Iran has an obligation to uphold, including the right to a fair trial. “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls from the international higher education and human rights communities to free Dr. Djalali and return him to his family and colleagues,” said Scholars at Risk (SAR) Executive Director, Robert Quinn.
A Threat to Academic Freedom
Dr. Djalali’s situation should raise grave concerns for scholars and society everywhere. And he is not alone. France’s Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal remain detained in Iran under espionage charges. Both deny the allegations and face several years in jail.
In 2018, 104 incidents of detention, arrest, and other legal practices were experienced by academics, including students. A growing number of terrorist and extra-governmental groups are now targeting academics, yet governments remain the leading cause of scholar persecution according to the Scholars Rescue Fund (SRF).
Beyond the unimaginable abuse that Dr. Djalali and other academics have suffered during their wrongful prosecution and imprisonment, a broader implication is the direct threat to academic freedom, undermining entire higher education systems and shrinking the academic space to think, question, and share ideas freely and safely.
What Can We Do?
If the execution is carried out, Ahmadreza’s death will mean the loss of not only an innocent man, but a bright and brilliant mind. It is an assault on academia to use scholarly work for political gain.
So what can we do about it? What is clear is that further government intervention is required. In Dr. Djalali’s case, Sweden’s foreign ministry is urging clemency, as are international observers. A spokesperson for Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde says the nation demands that the death penalty not be enforced. The two countries are understood to be in talks regarding the case.
“The attack on Ahmadreza Djalali is a tremendous assault to the academic community at large. It will have a chilling effect on international collaboration and trust,” says President of the Karolinska Institute, Ole Petter Ottersen.
Protecting academics like Djalali, Moore-Gilbert, Adelkhah and Marchal is a global responsibility, and our connectedness as a world-wide academic collective needs to mobilize now to ensure that the Iranian government are aware of the international condemnation of keeping scholars imprisoned without appropriate legal representation or healthcare.
Representatives from WADEM will join academics from around the globe from 15:00 (CET), Wednesday, 9 December for a 24-hour online marathon of scientists, researchers, and academics who will share their message live on the YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBPWtp2U_5-qwuAW9XmY3eA.
This event will help raise awareness as we stand in solidarity with Ahmad, sending out a message to the world that science and research must remain free from any political conditioning.
You can read more about Ahmadreza Djalali’s story here – https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/iran-imminent-execution-of-swedish-iranian-academic-ahmadreza-djalali-must-be-halted/.
The link to the Facebook event is – https://www.facebook.com/events/402117054239525/.
A Plea from Ahmad’s Wife
Ahmad’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, appealed to international media urging European governments to come to her husband’s aid. But the mood remains one of foreboding.“I cannot tell my children what is happening…How do I explain this?” asked Ahmadreza’s wife Vida.