A group of United Nations human rights experts on Wednesday called on Iran to annul its death sentence against a leading Iranian academic, citing major failures of due process during his trial. The case of Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian national and a Swedish permanent resident, joins a long list of spurious prosecutions of Iranians with dual citizenship or primary residence overseas.
Djalali, a scholar of disaster medicine first arrested in April 2016 while visiting Iran to attend a series of academic workshops, received the death sentence in October 2017 on charges of spying for Israel. Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict earlier this month, effectively eliminating any further judicial avenues to reverse it.
Tehran claimed that Djalali had gathered intelligence for Israel’s Mossad about two Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated in 2010. However, Iran has failed to provide any evidence for these charges. On Sunday, Iranian state television broadcast a confession from Djalali, who subsequently said the regime had forced him to deliver it.
In fact, in an undated letter by Djalali released by the Center for Human Rights in Iran in October, the academic stated that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in 2014 asked him to spy for Tehran on European Union states by collecting information about their critical infrastructure and defense capabilities. “My answer was NO,” Djalali wrote.
The letter further notes that Tehran, in order to elicit “false confessions” based on “a crime file full of lies and groundless accusations, without any documents and reasons,” applied “multiple psychological and physical tortures, threats, humiliating, deluding me and also not allowing me to access” an attorney until the seventh month of the incarceration.
Djalali’s wife offered a similar account. “After being held in solitary confinement for the first three months of his detention,” said Vida Mehran-nia, “they threatened to kill his kids in Sweden and let him die in prison without telling anyone if he didn’t cooperate.”
Djalali has spent most of his incarceration in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. A December 20 report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention quoted a source noting that Djalali “is detained in inhuman conditions,” “has been prevented from accessing adequate medical care,” and “has gone on hunger strike on several occasions.” As a result, his “health has seriously deteriorated.”
In November, 75 Nobel Prize laureates signed a letter calling for Djalali’s release. An online public petition to the Iranian regime has attracted more than 270,000 signatures to date, while Amnesty International released a statement contending that Iran’s Supreme Court “has run roughshod over the rule of law by upholding the death sentence.”
Djalali’s treatment reflects a longstanding trend. On November 9, Reuters reported that Iran has arrested at least 30 dual nationals over the past two years. Earlier this year, the House and Senate passed bipartisan resolutions calling for their release and urging the president to make their freedom “the highest of priorities.”
President Trump should heed this call. As a first step, he should increase economic pressure on Iran by sanctioning the thousands of Iranian entities tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which plays a key role in Tehran’s domestic repression. Only by raising the costs for the regime’s conduct can Washington hope to compel Iran to reassess the cost-benefit calculus of its dangerous policies.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.