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AAAS, APS Seek to Free Iranian Physician Facing Death Penalty

Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-born physician, research scientist and professor, was sentenced to death on espionage charges, triggering calls for his release from scientists, academic organizations, scientific societies and human rights organizations across the world. | Courtesy of VUB

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is being urged to ensure justice is applied and death averted in the case against Ahmadreza Djalali, a disaster medicine physician and scientist, now facing the death penalty on charges of espionage, according to a letter sent to Rouhani Friday by the presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.

AAAS President Susan Hockfield and APS President Laura H. Greene, whose scientific societies represent more than 170,000 scientists and engineers, called on Rouhani to step in and examine “irregularities” in the handling of charges leveled against the a 45-year-old Djalali.

“Some weeks ago, we expressed our unhappiness over the death sentence that had been handed down in a case fraught with irregularities, including the court’s refusal to allow Djalali to be represented by a lawyer of his own choosing,” stated the letter.

The Iranian-born Djalali, a resident of Sweden, was arrested in April 2016 by Ministry of Intelligence officials for security-related offenses, according to Amnesty International. At the time of the arrest, he was on his way to visit relatives in Iran where he had been attending a conference. He has since been detained in Tehran’s Evin prison.

The Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced Djalali to death on Oct. 21 and gave him 20 days to file an appeal of the sentence, according to Amnesty International. He and his family prepared an appeal and filed it within the required deadline, but his court-appointed lawyer, despite informing his family otherwise, did not file the appeal of his sentence with the court, noted the Hockfield and Green letter, adding “The order has been given for the execution to proceed.”

Ahmadreza Djalali staged a hunger strike during his captivity in Teheran’s Evan prison to protest his treatment.  | Ehsan Iran/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“There are many different concepts of justice in different legal systems. What has happened to Djalali offends against them all,” said the letter. “Our common humanity calls out for fair treatment, which Dajalali has not had. It seems that Iran may be about to put to death an innocent man. Mercy follows justice but Djalali has not even had justice.”

The detention and proceedings by the Iranian Revolutionary Court in Tehran against Djalali have sparked widespread condemnation and ongoing concern from his wife and two children, who live in Stockholm.

Djalali, who is also a professor of disaster medicine at a joint program run by the Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy, and the Free University of Brussels, has drawn support and calls for his release from scientists and academics across the globe.

Hockfield and Greene said their respective societies have long supported open, international scientific collaborations that are “necessary for the flourishing of science, itself.” They pointed out that such exchanges are governed “by multiple international conventions and agreements, to which Iran and the United States are signatories.”

Dajalali’s wellbeing and his potential execution raise fundamental questions about the future of scientific exchanges, said the two scientific society presidents. “We therefore ask you to do all that is within your power to ensure that justice is done in this case.”

[Associated image: Courtesy of VUB]