The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) accompanied Mrs Vida Mehrannia, the wife of imprisoned Iranian-Swedish professor Dr Ahmadreza Djalali, to Brussels and Strasbourg to appeal for urgent intervention from diplomats and members of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.
Dr Djalali was arrested in Iran in April 2016, then unjustly accused of treason and sentenced to death in October 2017. He has now spent 26 months in appalling conditions in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, with no access to medical care or consular visitation even though he is a dual-national Swedish citizen.
His wife made an appeal for his release on IOHR TV in May. His health is deteriorating, his white blood cell count is down 50 per cent and he has lost 25Kgs in weight.
Photos of Ahmadreza. Left: before his arrest, right: a photograph taken by Dr Djalali’s lawyer from prison in April 2018
Ahmadreza Djalali said in a letter he wrote to Dr Rouhani: “I was a victim of all mentioned acts (of torture, threatening, forcing and also hitting, preventing access to an attorney) illegal and anti-human rights actions done by the investigators. In addition, they threatened me that they would harm my two young children.”
Vida Mehrannia told IOHR “My husband’s detainment has had a severe impact upon his physical and mental well-being. He is under immense strain and suffering every day.”
Mrs Mehrannia travelled from her home in Stockholm with her young son, Aryio (6 years old) and daughter Amitis (15 years old) on 26 June 2018 and was welcomed to Brussels by Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of the Flemish Government and foreign policy chief, Jan Peumans, President of the Flemish Parliament and VUB rector Caroline Pauwels at a private breakfast meeting at the Flemish Parliament.
During the meeting Minister President Geert Bourgeois stated:
“I am very worried about the predicament of professor Djalali, who has been detained under the unbearable threat of death penalty for more than two years now. The psychological pressure which his situation entails is not only excruciating for himself but also for his relatives and close friends. Moreover, professor Djalali suffers from poor health and is denied access to medical care outside of the prison. In my contacts with the Iranian ambassador and authorities I keep stressing the professor’s humanitarian situation and his need for medical help, like I did as recently as last week in my conversation with vice-president Sattari. I have also addressed a plea for grace to the Ayatollah on multiple occasions and have always made it clear that Flanders can in no way approve of the death penalty sentence.”
Minister President Geert Bourgeois with Mrs Vida Mehrannia and Valerie Peay, Director IOHR
Following the breakfast Mrs Mehrannia spoke at a press conference at the Flemish Parliament to ask for help. “My children and I wish to be reunited as a family with a beautiful husband and a loving father. Ahmadreza is innocent. Help me free him.”
VUB professor Dr Gerlant Van Berlaer, colleague and close friend of Dr Djalali, who has campaigned continuously for his release, expressed his solidarity at the meetings and press conference:
“As emergency doctors and scientists, we do whatever it takes to save lives. Which is what we are doing today, as colleagues and friends of Ahmadreza, and what we must continue to do: to use all possible means to help fight for the release of Dr Ahmadreza Djalali.”
Vida Mehrannia was presented with thousands of letters of support from colleagues and students at the VUB and the UZ Brussel by Dr Gerlant van Berlaer “as a symbol of our commitment” he said.
VUB rector Caroline Pauwels described the support from the community:
“The students and staff of the VUB and the UZ Brussel, all Flemish rectors, Belgian bishops, politicians in Flanders and Europe, human rights organisations and hundreds of thousands of supporters stand behind Dr Djalali and his family.”.
Ms. Pauwels called upon Belgian and Flemish academic institutions to withdraw support from Iran funded educational exchanges until the release of Dr Djalali.
Valerie Peay, IOHR Director, highlighted the plight of dual nationals incarcerated in Iran who are being used as bargaining chips.
“The reason that we have brought Vida and her family to Brussels and to Strasbourg is that this is about human rights. IOHR has done some primary research, we sent our researcher to talk to families of many detained prisoners. They spoke of torture, solitary confinement and lack of due process. They are simply pawns caught up in political bargaining. Today we are at a point in Europe where if we come together as Europeans, we have the ability to make ourselves heard. Last week Iran executed a prisoner – a bus driver – after an unfair trial condemned by experts. Today, Dr Djalali sits on death row and is still denied medical care. We are demanding that he receives that care, that his death sentence be commuted immediately. This is an innocent man who must be freed now.”
Jan Peumans and Geert Bourgeois asserted the commitment of the Flemish Parliament and the Flemish government:
“As president of the Flemish Parliament, I am urgently calling upon the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to respond positively to the resolution that was unanimously taken by the Flemish Parliament on 8 November 2017. The Flemish Parliament is demanding above all a stay of execution for Dr Ahmadreza Djalali. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, according to Jan Peumans.
IOHR’s Valerie Peay, Geert Bourgeois, Jan Peumans, Vida Mehrannia and Caroline Pauwels
Chair Jan Peumans and members of the Flemish Parliament with Vida Mehrannia showing their support for Dr Djalali.
Mrs Mehrannia continued the day meeting with leading European MEPs and lawmakers such as former Belgian Prime Minister and Leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt who has been a very vocal and active supporter of Dr Djalali’s case.
Mrs Mehrannia met with Denis Chaibi, Head of the Iran Taskforce, European External Action Service, and Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans, Iihan Kyuchyuk (Bulgarian, Liberal), Frederique Reis (Belgian, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) who also gave their support.
Lars Adaktusson MEP (Swedish Christian Democrats) described to Mrs Mehrannia his trip to Iran when he attempted to see her husband, however the Iranian authorities then refused to allow the visit. Mr Adaktusson has already raised several questions and a resolution in the EU parliament in support of Dr Djalali’s case.
Valerie Peay, Vida Mehrannia and Lars Adaktusson, MEP Swedish Christian Democrats.
Johan Verkammen, Director, Middle East & North Africa Department of the Belgian Foreign Ministry, expressed his concern to Mrs Mehrannia:
“I take good note of your message. Dr Ahmadreza Djalali is very well known in Belgium. When we talk about Iran, we talk about his case. His case was discussed a lot and we will continue to do so, but it is a very sensitive issue in Iran. Our minister states again that we are against death penalty and human rights violations. Dr Djalali’s health should be taken into consideration now.”
Mrs Mehrannia then travelled to Strasbourg with IOHR to meet with a delegation at the Council of Europe where she was hosted by Dirk Van der Maelen, Chairman of the Belgian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr Van der Maelen spoke over lunch with several colleagues of his belief that:
“ Vida is Ahmadreza’s best advocate. She gave me further explanation and I was glad that I was able to accompany her when we were meeting colleagues of mine from Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Austria. I was happy to see that all of my colleagues promised to take up the case of Dr Djalali.”