Scholar’s death sentence upheld as appeal ‘not filed’

The imprisoned scholar, Dr Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-born Swedish resident and specialist in emergency medicine, has been told by the court that his execution will go ahead because no appeal was submitted within the deadline.

Djalali’s lawyers learned on Saturday 9 December that Branch One of the Supreme Court had considered and upheld his death sentence in a summary manner without granting them an opportunity to file their defence submissions, according to Amnesty International.

“This is not only a shocking assault on the right to a fair trial but is also in utter disregard for Ahmadreza Djalali’s right to life. It is appalling that the Iranian authorities have deliberately denied Ahmadreza Djalali the right to a meaningful review of his conviction and sentence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately quash Ahmadreza Djalali’s death sentence, and grant him the right to present a meaningful appeal against his conviction before the highest court. Failing to do so will be an irreversible injustice.”

Djalali was convicted on charges of spying for Israel, which he adamantly denies, on 21 October, after being forced to sign a confession, as reported by University World News.

He was given 20 days to appeal and his family had been told that the appeal had been submitted in time.

However, according to statements by the international Committee of Concerned Scientists or CCS and Scholars at Risk or SAR, before Djalali was convicted, his lawyer was dismissed and a defence lawyer appointed on the instruction of the court.

On 8 December the new lawyer told the family that the appeal would proceed, but the family later found that no appeal was submitted. As the 20 days have passed, the sentence stands.

According to Amnesty International, since early November, Djalali’s lawyers had repeatedly contacted the Supreme Court to find out which branch his appeal petition had been allocated so they could present their submissions.

The human rights organisation said established practice in Iran is for lawyers to be informed of the branch where the appeal will be considered before submitting the relevant documentation and arguments. Djalali’s lawyers said they were consistently told by court clerks that the case had not yet been allocated for consideration and that they should wait. As a result, the sudden news of the Supreme Court’s decision came as a shock.

Amnesty International said: “It is a violation of the right to life to pass a death sentence after criminal proceedings that violate fair trial guarantees. Moreover, under international law, the only category of crimes for which the death penalty may be allowed is ‘the most serious crime’, which, as interpreted by international bodies, means only crimes involving killing.”

In their statement, the CCS described the handling of the case as an “egregious violation of accepted judicial norms and Dr Djalali’s rights” and asked scientists and scholars worldwide to protest.

SAR, the New York-based scholar rescue organisation, said Djalali had been wrongfully convicted in “apparent retaliation for his peaceful exercise of academic freedom” and called on the Iranian authorities to reverse the decision to execute Djalali, release him immediately and securely, and to drop all charges.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to investigate the judiciary’s handling of Professor Djalali’s case, including allegations of a breach of fair trial standards, and to ensure Professor Djalali’s right to due process and access to a lawyer of his choosing,” SAR said in a statement.

Refused to spy

Djalali, an Iranian-born resident of Sweden who teaches disaster medicine at universities in Italy and Belgium, was arrested in April 2016 while visiting Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops.

According to CCS – an independent organisation of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to protecting human rights and scientific freedom – he was accused of “collaborating with the enemy state”, was tortured, and was asked to spy for Iran but refused.

The human rights body said: “There can be nothing more sinister than a death sentence imposed on a medical doctor who devoted his life to saving the lives of others.”

Djalali is a medical doctor and lecturer at the Stockholm medical university, Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and a research associate in disaster medicine at the Centre for Research and Education in Emergency and Disaster Medicine at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy. He also teaches at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, Belgium.

His work focuses on improving hospitals’ emergency responses to armed terrorism and radiological, chemical and biological threats.

He had visited Iran at the invitation of Tehran University to teach students taking a masters degree in disaster medicine. He had been there many times previously without incident, and had worked with the Red Crescent, according to CCS.

According to a translation of a note written by Djalali inside Evin Prison, and circulated by a close contact, Djalali believes he was arrested for refusing to spy for the Iranian intelligence service, Nature reported.