Iranian academic, Ahmadreza Djalali, was sentenced to death last Saturday (21 October) and was given only 20 days to appeal against the sentence. Humanist and human rights groups have condemned the process as involving “torture” and the verdict as an outrageous injustice. And now it has been revealed that Ahmadreza was himself approached not by Israel – but by Iranian intelligence.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) strongly condemns the process and the verdict of the Iranian court who sentenced professor Ahmadreza Djalali to death last Saturday. IHEU previously reported on the worsening of Ahmadreza’s health conditions, who was arrested in April 2016 by ministry of intelligence officials on the accusation of “collaboration with a hostile nation” and “enmity against God.” Ahmadreza is a scientific enquirer and in his work seeks evidence-based knowledge. He worked previously with the free-thinking university in Brussels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
The authorities in Iran accuse the Iranian-born professor, who has residential status in Sweden, of working covertly for the Israeli government (as a “Mossad agent”). There is no public evidence which supports this claim.
On the contrary, a document attributed to Ahmadreza himself reveals that on several prior occasions he had refused to cooperate with Iranian intelligence services in espionage.
Ahmadreza: Iran “asked me to cooperate with them”
On Tuesday (24 October) the Italian journal Repubblica published a document attributed to Ahmadreza where he explains in detail his background, and sheds light on previously unrevealed aspects of his case.
According to this document, during a trip to Iran in 2014 professor Djalali was approached by Iranian intelligence who asked him to cooperate with them in an operation of espionage in Europe. Ahmadreza’s answer was negative:
“I told them that I am just a scientist, not a spy, and my scientific help to Iran’s academic centers come from my love and commitment to my motherland. […] They asked me to forget that meeting and the offer, and they ensured me that there would not be any problem for me and I should continue my cooperation with Iran’s academic centers.”
After this meeting Ahmadreza went back to Iran multiple times to attend conferences and meetings, but then, in April 2016, during one these academic trips, he was arrested with the accusation of “acting against national security”:
“They accused me of being the spy of Israel since 2008 and told me “all your PhD studying and post-doc fellow processes, and also the visa and residency (temporary and permanent) issues in EU (Sweden and Italy) have been arranged and offered by Israel in lieu of (in exchange for) your spying services for them […]
“The investigators from the Intelligence ministry did not care what I explained. They detained me in a 3.5 m² isolated cell at 209, using multiple psychological and physical tortures, threats, humiliating, deluding me and also not allowing me to access and attorney until month 7, which made me declare false confessions, and then fabricated a crime file full of lies and groundless accusations, without any documents and reasons.”[…] “My only fault is that I did not accept to use the trust of my colleagues and universities in EU to spy for Iran’s intelligence services.”
Family’s appeal for release
Ahmadreza’s lawyers denounced the unfairness of the trial and the absurdity of the motivations of the sentence. On Saturday, Ahmadreza’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, sent an appeal to the international community:
“Ahmadreza’s lawyer was informed today that his sentence is the death penalty, and that he will be executed. He was accused of working with Israel and he was told that he got millions of Euros because of his collaboration with Israel. He was told his positions in universities and projects around the world were just given to him because he collaborated with them.
“Ahmadreza has decided to start another hunger strike in the next 2 days as protest. I am asking you all the help we can get. Ahmadreza has never done anything like this, and everyone who knows him knows this. My family and children are suffering so much after this news. Please help us as much as possible in any way.”
“There is simply no evidence supporting any accusation of espionage.”
Andrew Copson, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) said:
“We know that Ahmadreza Djalali was tortured. His so-called confessions were extracted under torture and extreme pressure, which have zero merit as evidence. He has been subject to ignorant innuendo about his academic career and political convictions, and the fact that he travels and moved abroad. There is simply no evidence supporting any accusation of espionage.
“Ahmadreza is a scapegoat, seemingly chosen just because as a foreign resident with academic convictions he appears to the regime an easy target, and who may himself have turned down approaches by Iranian intelligence. This death sentence is abhorrent. It must be overturned.
“While Iran continues to show complete disrespect for international standards of justice and human rights, it will remain a state on the outside of the international community.”
For the Swedish Humanist Association, Humanisterna, chairperson Christer Sturmark comments:
The international community including the Swedish government needs to act and pressure the Iranian authorities to free Ahmadreza Djalali. Already in September, a member of the Swedish parliament Amineh Kakabaveh, also a board member of the Swedish Humanist Association, demanded in parliament that the Swedish Foreign ministry take rapid and forceful action. So far the Swedish response to this case has not been enough.
DeMens.nu, the umbrella association for freethought organizations in Flanders, Belgium, said:
Scientists overcome the darkness by sharing knowledge and working together, with everyone. Together, without national borders, religion, dogma or prejudice. Ahmadreza Djalali sets an example for all of us. Despite this terrible news, we keep on fighting for a fair process and eventually his freedom.
The international community must act
Luca Ragazzoni, a colleague and friend of Djalali following his case from the very beginning. Luca said: “We are shocked about the sentence and we are doing as much as we can to help our friend and colleague Ahmad, who has now just 20 days from Saturday to appeal against his death sentence. This sentence is unacceptable for us and we ask for a second trial. We appeal the global scientific community to stand up together with us and ask for his immediate release”.
Luca launched a petition addressed to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Angelino Alfano, who confirmed that the Italian government is following Ahmadreza’s case.
The Swedish government has also condemned the sentence and said it had raised the case with Iran. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said: “We condemn the use of the death penalty in all its forms. The death penalty is an inhuman, cruel and irreversible punishment that has no place in modern law.”
In a statement from the CEMESCO research team at Free University Brussels (VUB), the Rector Caroline Pauwels says: “A scientist performing important humanitarian work, gets sentenced without public trial and is looking at the death penalty. This is an outrageous violation of universal human rights, against which we should react decisively.”
Amnesty International said: “Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial that once again exposes not only the Iranian authorities’ steadfast commitment to use of the death penalty but their utter contempt for the rule of law.”