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VUB visiting professor facing imminent execution in Iran

21:00 26/11/2020
From Flanders Today

A doctor and visiting professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) being held in prison in Iran has been placed in isolation and is facing imminent execution. His colleagues in Brussels have called for increased efforts to secure his release.

Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish disaster medicine specialist, has been in prison in Iran since 2016, after he was arrested and accused of spying. In 2017 he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Djalali, 49, telephoned his wife in Stockholm this week to tell her he was being transferred to a prison in Karaj, where he would be placed in isolation. “That is usually the last step before execution,” said Gerlant Van Berlaer, a VUB professor and friend of the family. “He literally said goodbye to his wife on the telephone.”

According to Amnesty International, the office in charge of implementing sentences has been instructed to transfer Djalali to implement his death sentence no later than a week from 24 November.

Van Berlaer and Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, have called on Belgian and European politicians to increase international pressure on Iran. Belgim's foreign minister, Sophie Wilmès, appealed to the Iranian ambassador in Brussels to intervene during a phone call this week. VUB is also calling on students, staff and supporters to back Amnesty International’s #SaveAhmadreza campaign.

“He was sentenced after a manifestly unfair trial because he refused to spy for the Iranian authorities,” said Wies De Gaeve, the director of Amnesty International Vlaanderen. “This man is one of the many victims of the oppressive 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.”

There has been pressure on Tehran to release Djalali for some time. In an interview with De Standaard, Djalali’s wife said she suspects her husband is being used as a means of pressure. A trial is due to start in Antwerp on Friday over a foiled terrorist attack on an Iranian opposition rally in Paris, in which an Iranian diplomat is one of the three defendants.

“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 on Thursday. Vanreusel will act for the civil parties to the trial in Antwerp. “This is just putting the pressure on right before the trial.”

On Thursday, Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was released after two years in prison in Iran, also for spying. She had been sentenced to 10 years. At the same time, three Iranians imprisoned in Thailand were released.

 Photo: Belga/Dirk Waem

Written by Sally Tipper (Flanders Today)