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Three days of protests in support of Ahmadreza Djalali begin Monday

Illustration shows an action of VUB students in front of the Iranian emabassy in Brussels against the execution of professor Ahmadreza Djalali, Friday 27 November 2020. PHOTO VUB STUDENTEN
10:50 30/11/2020

Academics from ULB university and activists from human rights organisation Amnesty International will be campaigning for three days at the Iranian Embassy in Elsene from Monday. They are protesting the possible execution of Ahmadreza Djalali, the Iranian scientist and guest lecturer at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Amnesty announced.

The protests on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will take place between 10.00 and 16.00 on the ULB university campus, directly opposite the Iranian embassy. Small groups, in line with current coronavirus health restrictions, will gather with a large banner and placards.

Djalali has been detained in Iran since April 2016, after being accused of espionage and involvement in the deaths of two Iranian nuclear experts. After a rushed trial, he was sentenced to death.

Earlier this week, Dr Djalali phoned his wife, Vida Mehrannia, to say his goodbyes. He told her he would be placed in isolation in a prison in the city of Karaj, often seen as a final step before a prisoner is executed.

Djalali’s wife appeared on Flemish television on Sunday to again make an appeal for his release. "We have no information,” Vida Mehrannia told VRT’s De Zevende Dag show. “We're waiting for what happens next. It's torture both for him and for us, his family. This is against human rights and against democracy."

Mehrannia and Gerlant Van Berlaer, a VUB professor and friend of the family, have called on Belgian and European politicians to increase international pressure on Iran. Belgium's foreign minister, Sophie Wilmès, appealed to the Iranian ambassador in Brussels to intervene during a phone call this week. The European Union also said it was "extremely concerned" by the reports of an imminent execution.

"Dr Djalali is a renowned academic who does not belong on death row," says Wies De Graeve, director of Amnesty International Flanders. "He was convicted after a manifestly unfair trial for refusing to spy for the Iranian authorities. The man is one of the many victims of the repressive Iranian regime."

Earlier this week, however, Iran rejected similar calls from Sweden to release Djalali. “The Iranian judiciary is independent,” a spokesperson for the country's foreign ministry said in response to an appeal by Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde to her counterpart in Tehran. “All interference in the issuance or carrying out of judicial decisions is rejected as unacceptable.”

Iran may be using the threat of execution to increase the pressure on Belgium to secure the release and return of one of its own nationals.  An Iranian diplomat, one of three defendants accused of involvement in a foiled terrorist attack on an Iranian opposition rally in Paris, has been on trial in Antwerp since Friday.

“Iran has a foreign policy that consists of locking people up in their prisons and then using them cynically as currency,” lawyer Rik Vanreusel said in De Morgen last week. Vanreusel will act for the civil parties to the trial in Antwerp. “This is just putting the pressure on right before the trial.”

On Friday, VUB students also took action at the Iranian Embassy. On the grass verge in front of the building they wrote the message "#SaveAhmadreza" in flour and on Monday, between 17.00 and 21.30, the Braem building on the VUB campus in Etterbeek will also be illuminated as a sign of support for the Iranian-Swedish VUB guest lecturer.

Written by Nick Amies