Ahmadreza Djalali was arrested in April 2016.

Courtesy of VUB

Amnesty calls for pressure campaign to help Iranian scientist who could face death penalty

Amnesty International today asked for "urgent action" on behalf of Ahmadreza Djalali, the Iranian-born disaster medicine expert detained in Iran since April 2016. In a statement, Amnesty called on the public to write Iran's top leaders to ask that Djalali be released or "charged with a recognizable criminal offense," and to ensure that he has access to medical care and to his lawyer.

On 3 February, the Free University of Brussels (VUB), where Djalali is a professor, announced that he had been sentenced to death, and that he was "scheduled to be executed in two weeks."

That's incorrect, according to Amnesty, which says Djalali has been "threatened" with the death penalty. "On 31 January, he was taken before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, without his lawyer present, where the presiding judge told him that he was accused of ‘espionage’ and could face the death penalty," the statement says. "The lawyer he has appointed told Amnesty International that the authorities have yet to issue an indictment and schedule a trial."

Amnesty's version of the facts is correct, says Francesco Della Corte of the Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIM) at the University of East Piedmont in Novara, Italy, where Djalali has an appointment as well. (VUB and CRIMEDIM jointly organize the European Master in Disaster Medicine.) Della Corte says the VUB statement contained erroneous information. VUB did not immediately respond to a request for comment; its statement announcing the death penalty, which refers to a story in Belgian newspaper De Morgen, was still online when this story went live.

Djalali, 45, worked in Novara until the end of 2015 but now lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children, Della Corte says. He left Iran in 2009 to join a Ph.D. program at the Karolinska Institute in the Swedish capital, and had traveled back to Iran multiple times without problems. He was arrested while en route from Tehran to the city of Karaj in April; Amnesty International says he was in the country to attend workshops about disaster medicine at the University of Tehran and Shiraz University.

*Update, 8 February, 10:56 a.m.: VUB has changed its statement about Djalali today to say that he "could be sentenced" to death.