SAR demands release of scholar threatened with execution

Scholars at Risk or SAR has called on the Iranian authorities to suspend the capital sentence issued against Dr Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish scholar of disaster medicine who teaches disaster medicine at universities in Italy, Belgium and Sweden, and secure his immediate release.

It issued the call because it understands that the Iranian authorities recently put Dr Djalali in solitary confinement and are preparing to carry out his death sentence at any moment.

Djalali is a medical doctor and lecturer at the Stockholm medical university Karolinska Institute in 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 was arrested by Iranian authorities in April 2016 while he was travelling to participate in a series of workshops hosted by universities in Tehran and Shiraz. He had been there many times previously without incident, and had worked with the Red Crescent.

On 21 October 2017, Djalali was convicted and sentenced to death for ‘corruption on earth’ (ifsad fil-arz), based on unsubstantiated allegations that he had revealed national security information about Iran to Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. He was forced to sign a confession, SAR reported at the time.

Djalali has adamantly denied the allegations, asserting that his ties to the international academic community are the basis of his prosecution. SAR understands that he has been denied the right to appeal the conviction and sentence.

In 2018 University World News reported his wife as saying of the charges: “It is astonishing to even believe that a scientist whose entire work is based on healthcare could have access to any government’s national security information. How could he even access that type of information? It is a ridiculous and outrageous accusation.”

SAR Executive Director Robert Quinn said this week: “Dr Djalali’s arrest, conviction and sentencing flagrantly 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.”

According to his family, Djalali has been subjected to torture and solitary confinement while in state custody.

In July 2019 Iranian authorities suddenly transferred him to an undisclosed detention facility where he was threatened with immediate execution in order to obtain a forced confession, SAR reported.

SAR further understands that Djalali has suffered from a number of severe medical complications, including gastritis, stomach ulcers, gallstones, anaemia, depression and anxiety. He is also suspected of being at high risk of leukaemia, after his bone marrow cells were found to have weakened. Despite these complications, SAR understands that authorities have repeatedly denied him proper medical care.

According to Quinn, Djalali’s situation should raise grave concerns for scholars and society everywhere.

“Beyond the unimaginable abuse Dr Djalali has suffered and the years-long nightmare his family has been forced to endure, the wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of researchers like Dr Djalali endanger our collective ability to conduct academic work and provide society the benefits of scientific inquiry and exchange,” Quinn said.

“SAR calls on government and university leaders and all those who value academic freedom to press Iranian authorities for Djalali’s immediate release.”