Wife Says Sweden-Based Researcher Sentenced To Death In Iran On Spy Charges

The wife of a Swedish-based academic and researcher says Iran has sentenced her husband to death on espionage-related charges.

Iranian authorities detained Ahmadreza Jalali, a scientist at the Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIN) run by the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy, and the Free University Brussels (VUB), during a visit in April.

Jalali's wife, Vida Mehrannia, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on February 3 that her husband had been charged with "working with enemy states," an allegation that she dismissed as baseless because he was engaged exclusively in "scientific work."

The apparent verdict follows warnings by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime's heavily militarized ideological gatekeepers, of "infiltration" attempts by Iran's enemies.

It also comes with conservative opponents in Iran of a possible thaw with the West seemingly eager to project strength to their critics at home and abroad.

Mehrannia said Jalali had traveled to Iran to attend a scientific workshop based on an official invitation from an Iranian university.

She said he has been refusing to eat since December 26 to protest his arrest and the charges, and added that he is in poor mental and physical condition.

Mehrannia also said she was told the presiding judge informed Jalali last week that his trial was still weeks away.

"Judge [Abdolqasem] Salavati had read him the indictment and told him that his main trial will be held in two to three weeks," she said.

Harsh Sentences

Rights advocates have long accused Iranian courts of issuing politically motivated sentences. Trial proceedings, often held behind closed doors, can last only a few minutes, and charges and even verdicts are routinely left to public speculation rather than informing defense teams or family of pending charges.

Salavati has been accused by rights activists of ignoring the principles of a fair trial and issuing unduly harsh sentences for dissidents, journalists, lawyers, and others.

The espionage charges against Jalali have been dismissed as nonsense by his colleagues.

"Ahmadreza is passionate about science," Ives Hubloue, the head of the Free University Brussels' Research Group on Emergency and Disaster Medicine, was quoted by Science Magazine as saying on February 3. "He's not interested in politics. We don't believe he would do anything at all" to undermine the Iranian government.

'Outrageous Rights Violation'

According to Hubloue, the charges appeared to be related to Jalali's international contacts. The program draws students and professors from countries around the world, he said, including the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. "That could have something to do with it," he said.

Caroline Pauwels, rector of the Free University in Berlin, criticized Jalali's sentence "without public trial" as an "outrageous violation of universal human rights, against which we should react decisively," according to a February 3 statement published on the university's website.

Pauwels described Jalali's activities as "important humanitarian work."

Mehrannia said her husband had previously traveled to Iran every six months or so, based on invitations from Iranian universities, without incident.

She said Jalali was initially held for seven months in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer.

Dual Nationals Behind Bars

A number of dual nationals have been arrested in Iran and charged with security offenses amid what appears to be a power bid by hard-liners eager to tie the hands of reformist President Hassan Rohani and undermine the potential for less frosty ties with the U.S. and Western countries.

They include Iranian-American business Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Bagher Namazi, each of whom was sentenced to 10 years in prison for alleged cooperation with the United States.

Last month, the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said that Tehran is currently holding at least nine dual nationals "hostage" in prosecutions "completely lacking in due process."

The rights group called on Rohani to push for the release of all dual nationals unjustly detained in Iran.

"Rohani hides behind the excuse of an independent Judiciary, but in fact it is not independent -- it is doing the bidding of the IRGC and Intelligence Ministry officials who wish to intimidate dual nationals from western countries," Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the campaign, said in a January 25 statement.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda