An urgent call to the Swedish government: step up your efforts to secure Ahmadreza Djalali’s release

The situation in Iran is deeply worrying, and I am following developments closely. In my previous blogs, I’ve been explicit in my denunciation of the regime’s violent conduct and endorse the joint condemnation published by the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions on 3 October.

There is clear evidence that during the protests of the past few weeks, special armed police from the Iranian regime have entered the campuses of Iranian universities and attacked students engaged in peaceful protests. They have also kidnapped students from the dorms. This is an indefensible breach of human rights. I have said it before and I will say it again: under no circumstances are violence and harassment acceptable at a university campus.

And as as the Iranian regime continues to clamp down on peaceful protests in the country, the Swedish-Iranian doctor and researcher in disaster medicine, KI-alumnus Ahmadreza Djalali, is still languishing in prison. Last Wednesday I sent a letter to the new Swedish government, via the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, calling upon them to ratchet up their pressure on Iran to make sure that its rulers respect fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

My message to the Iranian government is as simple as it is clear: Stop the violence. Let people lead normal lives. And set Ahmadreza Djalali free.

Here is the letter I sent:  

To the Swedish government, via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ahmadreza Djalali’s situation

The Swedish-Iranian doctor and researcher in disaster medicine, Ahmadreza Djalali, is still imprisoned in Iran. Djalali, who is a Swedish citizen and who earned his PhD at Karolinska Institutet, was arrested in Teheran in April 2016, is now awaiting execution in Evin prison on a charge of espionage. His sentence was announced in 2017 following a trial that lacked the most basic criteria for just and humane treatment.

Iran has threatened to carry out the sentence on several occasions and the mental and physical strain on Ahmadreza Djalali is hard to imagine. The violent response to the demonstrations now taking place in Iran is yet another reminder of what a brutal and totalitarian regime this is.

The treatment of Ahmadreza Djalali is more than just egregious abuse against him and his family; his arrest at an academic conference on his own discipline – disaster medicine – is also a direct attack on fundamental democratic values, on academic freedom and on research and the dissemination of knowledge at large.

Tremendous commitment and efforts are being put into securing his release, both nationally and internationally. The EU parliament has issued a resolution demanding Djalali’s release, and individual MEPs are engaged in this issue. Over 150 Nobel laurates have appealed directly to the Iranian regime for Djalali’s release through the Scholars at Risk network. Last summer, the rectors of all Swedish universities wrote a joint open letter to academic colleagues and relevant international and intergovernmental organisations demanding the immediate release of Ahmadreza Djalali. The letter was also published in Svenska Dagbladet. Countless other actors, universities, politicians, organisations and governments have joined the cause.

In May, Ahmadreza Djalali’s wife Vida Mehrannia met the former Foreign Minister Ann Linde to discuss her husband’s case. Vida Mehrannia has been denied direct contact with her husband for the past two years.

As president of the university at which Ahmadreza Djalali took his PhD, I hereby call upon the new government to step up its efforts to influence Iran and to use all available means to increase pressure on the country to respect fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Ahmadreza Djalali’s situation is dire. He has serious medical problems and is in need of professional care and treatment. Above all, he needs to come home to his family in Sweden.

Needless to say, I am prepared to support and contribute to these efforts should the government so wish.

Yours respectfully

Ole Petter Ottersen,

President of Karolinska Institutet

We must continue to pursue Ahmadreza Djalali’s case. He needs medical attention and must be returned home. Worryingly, his case is not unique, fellow academics in France express the same concern over French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, who has been imprisoned in Iran for the last three years. Moreover, the violence that the Iranian regime is now meting out to students and the public must cease forthwith. I heed the call from Iran Human Rights to universities around the world; I express my support for the demands of Iranian students and condemn the regime’s use of violence.


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