Iran’s Supreme Court confirms death sentence for jailed scholar

Few options remain to halt the execution of disaster medicine researcher Ahmadreza Djalali.

Disaster-medicine researcher Ahmadreza Djalali has had his death sentence confirmed by the Iranian Supreme Court.Courtesy of Vida Mehrannia

Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence handed to Ahmadreza Djalali, a scholar who worked in Europe, according to the human-rights group Amnesty International.

“The current situation is awful. It would be great if the scientific community would speak on this issue and issues facing Iranian scientists,” says molecular biologist Richard Roberts at New England Biolabs in Ipswich, Massachusetts, who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Roberts is one of 79 Nobel laureates who last month signed a letter protesting against the sentence.

“Scientists should call en masse Iranian diplomatic missions in their countries and voice their concern about the fate of Ahmadreza Djalali,” says Eugene Chudnovsky, a physicist at the City University of New York who co-chairs the Committee of Concerned Scientists, a human-rights body based in New York City.

Djalali worked on improving hospitals’ emergency responses to armed terrorism and to radiological, chemical and biological threats. He was arrested in April 2016 during a visit to Iran from his workplace at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He had worked there for just a few months, and was previously based at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy.

The scientist was accused of collaborating with a hostile government, an accusation tantamount to spying that the Iranian authorities have related to a series of murders of nuclear physicists in the country, according to Amnesty International. In October, Djalali was convicted by Iran’s revolutionary court and sentenced to death. His case has provoked strong protests from the scientific community, including the letter from the Nobel laureates.

Djalali’s lawyer intended to appeal against the death sentence during the 20-day period allowed for an appeal. But according to Amnesty International, the Supreme Court clerks failed to provide him with the necessary information to file his defence submission. The court then upheld the sentence.

The next step to avoid execution would be for Djalali to ask the head of the judiciary for a review of the sentence, according to sources familiar with the Iranian legal framework. The final step would be to accept the conviction and ask for a pardon.

A letter allegedly written by Djalali inside Evin prison, where he is being held, states that he believes he was arrested for refusing to spy for the Iranian intelligence service. It also claims that Djalali was forced to make false confessions following torture.

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