The attack on Ahmadreza Djalali amounts to an attack on academic freedom and the academic community at large

Published: 2020-11-25

The news that reached me yesterday morning instilled a mix of desolation and disbelief: Swedish citizen and KI alumnus Ahmadreza Djalali might face execution in Iran. In a phone call he told his wife that he had been transferred to solitary confinement and that it is likely that his death sentence will be carried out.  

I am appalled by this turn of events. The detainment and long-term imprisonment of Ahmadreza Djalali – a respected expert in disaster medicine – is an attack not only on an individual researcher and his family, but on the entire academic community and the values we share. It is also an assault on international collaboration and trust.

Diplomatic channels

Now we must hope that diplomatic channels will work, that our voices are heard and that reason will prevail. There is massive support for Ahmadreza Djalali worldwide. It’s a force that cannot be ignored.

It all started in April 2016, when Ahmadreza Djalali was arrested in Iran, accused of espionage and “enmity with God” – charges strongly disputed by both his academic colleagues and the international community.

Delivering lectures

Ahmadreza Djalali has dedicated his career to improving the operational capacity of hospitals in countries affected by natural disasters, terrorism, and armed conflicts. He has conducted research regarding humanitarian assistance in the world´s most vulnerable regions.  At the time of his arrest in Iran, Dr. Djalali was traveling through the country delivering lectures on his areas of expertise. The injustice and irony of his detainment and death sentence, after selflessly working to spread knowledge about post-crisis survival and recovery, should be lost on no one.

In a trial that will go down in history as a legal abomination, Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death by the Iranian authorities. In the absence of effective legal counsel and due process, he was accused of having colluded with the Israeli government, convicted of “spreading corruption on earth,” and forced to “confess” to his crimes on Iranian national television. Ahmadreza Djalali has denied all accusations and there is no doubt that he was sentenced to death based on fabricated claims. The detention of Ahmadreza Djalali has been formally announced arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Limited contacts

Nearly five years have passed since Ahmadreza Djalali’s arrest – years he has endured in utmost uncertainty in a notorious Tehran prison. His contacts with the outside world have been limited, and it is clear from recent photos and reports that the harsh prison environment has caused his health to deteriorate. He is in urgent need of adequate medical care and relief from his unhealthy prison environment – an environment in which his medical condition is compounded by the psychological impact of his death sentence.

International support

There is strong international support for Dr. Djalali. One hundred and twenty-four Nobel laureates have appealed directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, imploring him to personally intervene and ensure that Dr. Djalali is treated humanely and returned home to his wife and children and to his scholarly work for the benefit of mankind.

Now when the Nobel Week is drawing near we should emphasize the obvious: science belongs in the spotlight, not in prison.

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