'Eerie silence': Threat of execution for VUB guest lecturer Djalali is not gone

'Eerie silence': Threat of execution for VUB guest lecturer Djalali is not gone
Credit: Belga/Virginie Lefour

The threat of execution for Ahmadreza Djalali (49), a guest lecturer at the Brussels VUB University who was sentenced to death in Iran in 2017, has not yet passed, according to Amnesty International Flanders.

In early May, the Iranian authorities announced that Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish scientist who has been unjustly imprisoned in the country for more than five years after he was arrested and charged with espionage during a working visit to the country, would be executed by 21 May.

"It is difficult to obtain information on his current condition, but we know that he has not been executed yet," said the director of Amnesty International Flanders Wies De Graeve, adding that there has been "an eerie silence" surrounding Djalali's fate since May.

However, there are no indications that Iran would wish to refrain from carrying out Djalali's death sentence, he added. "It is crucial to keep the focus on the case: states and others with influence in Iran must now do everything possible to save the professor from death."

Tortured and held hostage

At the end of October 2017, Djalali was sentenced to death after what human rights experts called an unfair trial. According to Amnesty International, he was forced to confession under torture and spent the first three months of his detention in solitary confinement. His lawyer was not allowed to visit him until seven months after his arrest.

After he again spent a long time in an isolation cell in Iran and was in a worryingly poor physical and mental condition in March 2021, UN experts said that "there is only one word to describe Djalali's severe physical and psychological ill-treatment, and that is torture."

According to De Graeve, Iran is using Djalali as "political currency" to put pressure on Belgium and Sweden in connection with two court cases against two former Iranian officials. "Djalali's execution would be an act of retaliation and a warning to other states."

Iran linked his case to that of Asadollah Asadi, a former Iranian diplomat who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for his role in a foiled bomb attack in France in 2018. The second official is Hamid Nouri, a former prison employee on trial in Sweden, for possible involvement in the 1988 mass executions of Iranian political prisoners.

"On 14 July the verdict in the case of Hamid Nouri is expected in Sweden. It is possible that Iran will carry out the execution around that time," said De Graeve. "This will be another very scary moment for Djalali."

"He has travelled a long road of suffering, and has been living with the constant threat of execution for years," he said. "Also for his wife and children in Sweden, who are not allowed to have contact with him since November 2020, this nightmare has been dragging on for six years. Iran must finally release Djalali so that he can be reunited with his family."

An Amnesty International petition to demand Djalali's release has already been signed nearly 140,000 times in Belgium.

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