On 17 September, the International Observatory of Human Rights received an audio recording from Mrs. Vida Mehrania, the wife of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, who is currently on death row in a prison in Iran. The recording contained a heart-breaking conversation between Dr. Djalai and a lady who was interviewing him about his ongoing plight and unjust incarceration as the sounds of what seemed to be instructions announced on the prison intercom system. The Iranian-Swedish scientist wrongly accused of espionage details the harsh reality of his imprisonment and the flawed judicial proceedings.
“I am still under continuous risk of being executed,”
Dr Djalali says in the recording.
He speaks about the need for Sweden to support him. Dr Djalali was granted a Swedish citizenship in February 2018 in order to give him better grounds in his battle for freedom in Iran according to a spokesperson from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“A few days ago I was at the prosecutor’s office. I was told that the death penalty is still applicable. However, they are ready to solve this problem if Sweden decides to help me. Practically, not just verbally. As I heard from them, Sweden not only doesn’t perform any real action to save me and release me, but also they may prefer that I’d be executed”.
He continued, saying that Sweden not only does not provide any support but has a “very unfriendly” relationship with his family.
“My sister went there to explain my current situation and get consultation from the embassy and also to give the report to the Swedish officials to help me. By now, none of Swedish authorities, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, or before her, have allowed my spouse or children to meet them. Never.”
Despite the dire situation, Dr Djalali remains committed to fight for his release and has hope for the future.
“I have decided to sustain and fight with this catastrophe. My little son comes today to meet me again and I must do all my efforts to come back home.”
Who is Dr Ahmadreza Djalali?
Ahmadreza Djalali is an Iranian-born Swedish scientist, physician and expert in emergency disaster medicine who has been detained in Evin Prison since he was arrested in April 2016.
Working as a researcher at the Karolinska Institute of Medicine in Stockholm, Dr Djalali was visiting Iran in April 2016 upon an invitation by the University of Tehran when he was arrested by agents of the Intelligence Ministry. He was sentenced to death in October 2017 under espionage charges that he has repeatedly rejected. Reportedly, his lawyer was not allowed to be present at the hearing and he was denied access to the case files.
Prior to his death sentence, Dr Djalali went on hunger strike in February 2017 after being taken before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran where the presiding judge told him that he was not allowed to have contact with or be represented by his chosen lawyer. He has repeatedly carried out hunger strikes throughout his period in prison and in May 2019 it was reported that he had lost 24 kg since the time of his arrest.
On 29 July 2019, Dr. Djalali was transferred from Evin Prison to an unknown location. There, he was severely tortured and threatened with the execution of the death sentence in order to gain confessions from him.
Dr Djalali’s health has been deteriorating since his arrest. In addition to his ongoing crisis, he has been denied medical care continuously. It is feared that he suffers from leukemia and was scheduled to see a blood and cancer specialist at a hospital in February 2019 but prison authorities prevented him from going. He was not included in the temporary furlough when Iran decided to release a number of prisoners because of Covid-19 concerns.
Calls for his release
The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) has long advocated for Dr Djalali’s release. In June 2018, IOHR brought his case to the European Parliament and got members of the Council of Europe, European, Parliament, Flemish and Belgian Parliamentarians to call for his release.
IOHR has also previously interviewed Dr Jalali’s wife Vida Mehrannia, who spoke about his forced confession, fabricated charges, deteriorating health, and the calls for his release.
In December 2018, 121 Nobel Laureates came together and called on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to ensure that Djalali received the best possible medical care and was allowed to return home to his wife and children and “continue his scholarly work for the benefit of mankind”.
In March 2020, an open letter by Scholars at Risk was sent to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging him to release Dr Djalali. Scholars at Risk is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 39 countries.
The IOHR runs a campaign called #FreeRouhaniHostages, calling for the release of all dual nationals and foreign prisoners arbitrarily detained under President Hassan Rouhani.
Under Rouhani, the illegal detention of foreign and dual nationals has become a key strategy of the Iranian regime. Tehran is pursuing so-called hostage diplomacy, using these innocent individuals as bargaining chips in Iran’s dealings with other nations and as diplomatic leverage.
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and US permanent resident was arrested in Iran in 2015, and accused of spying for the US. He was released in 2019 after the intervention of the Lebanese president. IOHR spoke to him about Iran’s systematic incarceration of dual-citizens and how the regime uses them for political gains.
As of now, at least 11 dual and foreign nationals are being held in Iran in dire conditions and on baseless charges. Among them are Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was recently told she would face new charges after just six months left of her original sentence; Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic and Anoosheh Ashoori, a British-Iranian civil engineer.
Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born US citizen, sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran on spying charges was released in 2019 as part of a prisoner swap for Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist arrested at Chicago airport last year and convicted on charges of violating US trade sanctions.
In detention, these prisoners are subject to widespread human rights abuses. Humanitarian organisations have reported cases of torture, denial of medical care and prolonged solitary confinement amongst a many other atrocities. The ongoing pandemic has further exacerbated the horrible conditions these prisoners are being forced to endure.