Iran: Swede-Iranian faces execution in retaliation

On May 4, 2022, Iranian state media warned of the impending execution of Ahmadreza Djalali and said that “by carrying out the death sentence of Ahmadreza Djalali, the Iranian government…will prevent the Swedish government from undertake other actions similar to the detention of Hamid Nouri. These articles were published just days after the Swedish prosecution authorities requested the life imprisonment of Hamid Nouri for his alleged involvement in the 1988 prison massacres. The trial of Hamid Nouri is the first time that a criminal case has been brought against an Iranian defendant abroad under the principle of universal jurisdiction and it is also the first time, after decades of systemic impunity, that the 1988 prison massacres are the subject of a criminal trial. The trial has therefore drawn widespread public attention and shed unprecedented new light on the details of the 1988 prison massacres, which Iranian authorities have tried to conceal for decades. Amnesty International’s analysis of the current circumstances surrounding the arbitrary detention of Ahmadreza Djlalai indicates that since at least the end of 2020, the Iranian authorities have made his fate conditional on an “agreement” with Sweden to exchange him for Hamid Nouri and/or with Belgium to exchange him for a former Iranian diplomat, Asadollah Asadi. Asadollah Asadi was arrested in June 2018 and later sentenced by a Belgian criminal court to 20 years in prison in February 2021 for his role in a foiled bombing at a 2018 rally in France. Hamid Nouri was arrested in Sweden in November 2019 under the principle of universal jurisdiction and tried for his alleged involvement in the prison massacres in Iran in 1988, where thousands of political dissidents were victims of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions secretly. see here for further analysis and details, including how developments in Ahmadreza Djalali’s case are unfolding against a background where Iranian state officials and state media constantly refer to “the importance » detainees with dual nationality and foreigners, indicating that their detention can be used to obtain political, diplomatic and/or economic leverage.

Ahmadreza Djalali is a doctor and academic who lived in Sweden and was also a visiting professor in disaster medicine at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. He was arbitrarily arrested on April 26, 2016 while on a business trip to Iran. He was held in Evin Prison for seven months in Section 209, which is under the control of the Ministry of Intelligence. He was held for three months in prolonged solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer. In a letter written from prison in August 2017, Ahmadreza Djalali said that during this period he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in order to force him to “confess” to being a spy. This included threats to execute him, kill or otherwise harm his children, who live in Sweden, and his mother, who lived in Iran and died in 2021. He said he was forced to read “confession” pre-written by his interrogators in front of a video camera. Ahmadreza Djalali denies the charges against him and claims they were fabricated by the authorities. In the same letter, Ahmadreza Djalali writes that he was detained solely because of his refusal to use his academic links with European institutions to spy on Iranian authorities. On December 17, 2018, Iran’s state television aired Ahmadreza Djalali’s “confessions” during a program titled Axing the Root, which used dramatic music, graphics and international news footage interspersed with “confessions”. by Ahmadreza Djalali, as well as a voiceover presenting him as a “spy”. By extracting and disseminating these coerced “confessions”, the Iranian authorities violated Ahmadreza Djalali’s right to the presumption of innocence as well as the right not to be compelled to incriminate himself. Ahmadreza Djalali has since said the broadcast “confession” was filmed while he was being held in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer. In November 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Iran to immediately release Ahmadreza Djalali and grant him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations. They considered that his right to a fair trial had been so seriously violated “that it made Mr Djalali’s deprivation of liberty arbitrary”.

Iran, Sweden and Belgium are all parties to the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages, which criminalizes acts of hostage taking by state and non-state actors. The Convention defines hostage-taking as the detention of any person accompanied by threats of death, injury or continued detention, unless certain conditions are met by a third party. International law does not require that the conditions attached to a detainee’s release be expressly stated for the act of detention to constitute the crime of hostage-taking. Circumstances of a case which demonstrate an implied request made to a third party to do or refrain from doing something may be sufficient to establish intent and qualify the deprivation of liberty as an act of hostage-taking. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the State to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Martin E. Berry