The wife of scientist Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, who has been sentenced to death on spying charges, says that his lawyer has undermined his case and betrayed his client and his family.
Writing to the Committee for Concerned Scientists, which has campaigned for the jailed scientist’s release, Vida Mehran-Nia said her husband’s lawyer Dabir Daryabeigi had worked with the judiciary and Judge Abolghasem Salavati, the judge presiding over his case in the Revolutionary Court. Salavati is well known for his human rights violations and the European Union has included him on its sanctions list in relation to these gross violations.
The day before Mehran-Nia's appeal to the committee and the international community, the Iranian supreme court upheld the death sentence against Jalali, who has been charged with “collaborating with an enemy state” and branded a spy for Israel. But Mehran-Nia insists that her husband’s case was never even registered in the supreme court, suggesting that the trial was a sham.
“Two days ago I heard that the supreme court has upheld the death sentence,” Jalali’s mother told IranWire on December 10. “I was beside myself. I called Ahmad Reza’s lawyer. He said that it was just a rumor and that the verdict had gone to the court but they had yet to answer. But today the lawyer received confirmation of the verdict.”
Now that confirmation appears to be out of step with Iranian law and not actually linked to any actual court appeals process.
According to his mother, Jalali’s lawyer Dabir Daryabeigi showed his mother the supreme court verdict. “We are hysterical,” she said. “They want to destroy my beloved son. But I won’t let them. They must execute me together with Ahmad Reza.”
Dr. Jalali, an Iranian citizen with permanent residency in Sweden, is a physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief, and teaches at Vrije University Brussel (VUB) in Belgium. He has been working on disaster relief since 1999, and has been involved in more than 25 research projects. Most recently before his arrest, he had been working on a European project to develop training courses for EU-based strategic managers and professionals helping countries affected by natural disasters. At the same time, he had also been working with the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy to improve the performance of centers that deal with the aftermath of earthquakes and floods in underdeveloped countries.
He was arrested on April 24, 2016, just three days before he was to return home after visiting Iran at the invitation of Tehran University. His family was left uninformed about his whereabouts for a week after his arrest, at which point he was allowed to telephone them. He told his family that he had been detained and charged with “collaborating with an enemy state.”
“An Israeli Spy”
On Tuesday, October 24, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that a “Mossad agent” had been sentenced to death. The prosecutor said the "agent" had been found guilty of conspiring with Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
At least four Iranian scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012, leading Tehran to accuse Israel and the United States of carrying out a program of assassinations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. In early 2011, a young Iranian named Majid Fashi confessed on Iranian state television to the killing of one of the scientists, saying that he had trained for the operation at a Mossad facility near Tel Aviv. Fashi was executed in May 2012.
Dowlatabadi spoke about Jalali’s case and his sentence for an alleged similar crime, though he did not mention him by name. ”The person had several meetings with Mossad and provided them with sensitive information about Iran's military and nuclear sites in return for money and residency in Sweden,” he said. He added that the convicted person had given Mossad information about 30 key nuclear and military scientists, including Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, who was killed by a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle outside his home in Tehran in January 2010, and the nuclear engineer Majid Shahriari, who was assassinated in a bomb attack in November 2010.
Dr. Jalali and his family have categorically denied the charges. “Ahmad Reza swears that he did not know these martyred nuclear scientists in any way and does not know anything about it,” his mother said. He put his hand on the Koran and swore on it, but they did not accept this. He swore it to me and on the life of his children.” I could hear her sighs on the other end of the telephone. “Didn’t they execute one person [Majid Fashi] for assassinating the martyred scientists? Now they say that my son must be executed as well. If [Fashi] was not guilty then they must bring him back to life and return him to his family. Then they can accuse my son and send him to the gallows.”
Confessing under Torture
Jalali has said time and again that he was forced to confess under physical and mental torture. According to his wife Vida Mehran-Nia, Jalali’s interrogators were present during his court appearance on August 23. “Ahmad Reza had complained against the interrogators and said that they had forced him to confess while in solitary confinement with threats and by putting him under mental pressure. Most of the questions in the court were about this. Ahmad Reza told the court: ‘I retract whatever I have signed because I signed under severe mental duress and because they threatened the life of my family. I do not accept any of the charges.’”
Jalali’s mother, who is 73, told me the last year and a half have been hell for her. “They forced my son to confess by torturing him while he was blindfolded,” she said. “This is enough for me to die of grief.” Every other week she travels from the East Azerbaijani capital of Tabriz to Tehran to visit his son behind bars. She talks about how hard she worked to raise Jalali and send him to medical school, and about how every time he returned to Iran she took pride in him. “I thought I would see him awarded and celebrated but I did not expect him to be sentenced to death,” she said.
After learning the news that her son’s death penalty had been upheld, his mother’s health has taken a turn for the worse. “I have a heart problem, I have high blood pressure and I had almost a heart attack,” she said. “But I will defend my son as long as I can breathe. My son is a scientist. They invited him themselves, but now they say that he is a spy.”
“None of Our Business”
According to Jalali’s mother, several Iranian universities had regularly invited her son to participate in scientific projects. The last invitation was from University of Tehran. She has appealed to several prominent figures to help. “I met with Mr. Pezeshkian [Masoud Pezeshkian, member of parliament from Tabriz] and Mr. Ghanaatkar [a judiciary official] and I wrote letters to the office of the president and the judiciary, but nobody gives me a straight answer,” she said. “They all say it is none of their business. Then whose business is it?”
She also said she has been humiliated and insulted. “The soldier guarding the entrance to Evin’s courthouse insulted me,” she told IranWire. “I said to him that I wanted to see the examining magistrate. ‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘Go away. Your son has been sentenced to death.’ The verdict was issued only two months ago. How did that soldier know at the time what the verdict against my son was?”
The last time she saw her son, he was in a bad psychological condition. “He is worried about his wife and children,” she said. ‘Let them execute me,’ he said. ‘I not guilty and they are unjust. Let them execute me so they can rest easy.’ Today we talked on the phone. When he learned that the sentence had been upheld he became more frantic. He is devastated.”
With a trembling voice, Jalali’s mother told me: “I don’t know how they will answer to God.” In the beginning, when her son was first arrested, she gave interviews to the media. After a while, Jalali told her to stop giving interviews. He said that the judge had told him that if his mother kept quiet things would go well for him. “I decided to keep silent so that maybe they would have mercy on my son. But then I saw that when I stopped talking they sentenced my son to death.”
Both Jalali's wife and mother now see the international community as the best hope for Jalali, and their strongest legal recourse.
“Let the international community hear our voice,” his mother pleaded. “Tell them that Ahmad Reza has only one request. He wants to be tried at an open court. Let them come and say clearly what my son is guilty of. Let the people judge. This is what we want.”