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Djalali case: Iran floats idea of prisoner exchange

Dr. Djalali. Family photo.

The Iranian government has said it would be interested in an exchange of prisoners to allow Iran to release imprisoned VUB professor Ahmadreza Djalali.

The suggestion comes as the fate of Djalali hangs in the balance. He was transferred to solitary confinement last week – a step seen as a lead-up to execution.

This week, however, a transfer from Evin prison in Tehran to the Rajaj Shar prison in Karaj, where executions are usually carried out, was postponed after the former Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmès, now minister for foreign affairs, spoke directly by phone to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The foreign affairs ministry would only say that Wilmès condemned the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last week in Tehran, and that the subject of Djalali also came up.

Shortly after, Zarif cancelled the transfer, apparently to allow one last family visit before the sentence is carried out.

Now Zarif has made clear what had been suggested before: that Iran would be prepared to take part in an exchange of prisoners with any country willing to negotiate.

The statement was not in relation to Djalali specifically, but it so happens that a major trial is taking place in Antwerp at this moment, in which an Iranian diplomat is charged with taking part in a terrorist plot to detonate a car bomb outside a building where a major meeting of the Iranian opposition in exile was due to take place.

We are ready to exchange prisoners. We can do that from tomorrow, or we can do it today,” Zarif said yesterday during a virtual diplomatic conference.

The Belgian government has yet to respond.

Dr Djalali is Iranian-born, a specialist in emergency medicine working in Sweden. During a visit to in international congress in Iran in 2016 he was arrested and charged with espionage. During his trial he was not allowed to speak and the defence strictly restrained. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Since then Sweden has given him Swedish nationality to allow them to work on his behalf. Before his arrest he was also a visiting professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB).

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times