Her nightmare started three days before her husband was due to return home. Vida Mehran-Nia was waiting in Sweden for her husband to come back, to listen to him talk about his research, and about his visit to Iran and his meetings with their families. She imagined she’d feel regret at not having been able to accompany him and share his experiences.
But then she was struck by a far more serious and upsetting emotion. On April 25, 2015, just three days before he was to return home, her husband Ahmad Reza Jalali disappeared. A week later he called his wife and told her that he had been arrested.
Jalali, an Iranian physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief, teaches at Vrije University Brussel (VUB) in Belgium, and is a permanent resident in Sweden. He has been working on disaster relief since 1999, and has been involved in more than 25 research projects. Most recently, he was 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 been working with the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy to improve the performance of centers dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes and floods in underdeveloped countries.
“It was 10 months ago that Ahmad Reza went to Iran,” Vida Mehran-Nia said. “Every six or seven months he traveled at the invitation of universities and I usually accompanied him, but this time I couldn’t. He was arrested as he was in his car driving,” said. “Later they turned over his car key to his family.”
“Don’t Talk To The Media”
At first, Jalali’s family avoided talking to the media. “They told his family that it would work against him if they talked to the media and I was afraid, too,” his wife said. “On the other hand, because of his academic work, many universities had contacted him but he could not reply to his emails. They were contacting me and asking me about him. The only thing that came to my mind was to lie and say that Ahmad Reza had been in a bad car accident in Iran and that he was in a coma.”
But a month ago, Vida Mehran-Nia decided to go to the media about her husband, although she is still hiding the details from their five-year old son. “We have a 14-year-old daughter who knows about, it but my five-year-old does not know what has happened. He is just restless because he misses his father.”
Dr. Jalali spent seven months at Ward 209 of Evin Prison, three months of which were in solitary confinement. “After he was transferred to Ward 7 he regularly called and we could talk,” she said. “He was told that his case was progressing fine, and that they would send it to court and it would be resolved. But on December 26, he contacted us and said that according to the examining magistrate he had been sentenced to death and would be hanged in Karaj prison with other inmates on death row.”
This is not the first time that Ahmad Reza Jalali has been threatened with execution. “The interrogators and the examining magistrates made this threat repeatedly,” his wife said, “but on that day the magistrate reiterated it a few times. Ahmad Reza only does scientific work. He worked on a project for [managing] sudden disasters with European universities. But now he has been charged with cooperating with hostile governments.”
Jalali went on a hunger strike on December 25, the day his interrogators told him he would receive the maximum punishment. “He is still on hunger strike,” his wife said. She said the interrogators visited him a few times. “Each time they told him he had been sentenced to death and the sentence was not going to change.”
On January 31, he was taken to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court. “He was brought before Judge Salavati, who read him his indictment and told him that he had been sentenced to death.”
Many European universities and human rights organizations including Amnesty International have published appeals on behalf of Ali Reza Jalali. His colleagues have written to Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, asking her to contact Islamic Republic officials and demand his release. Tens of thousands of people from around the world have signed a petition circulated by change.org
There have been some reports that Jalali had worked with an Israeli colleague on the treatment centers project, but his wife says he had never mentioned an Israeli colleague. “We know nothing about his case,” she said. “We want to know why they told him he would be executed? Why did they read him the indictment and the sentence before the trial took place?”
The Sealed Case
But so far the family have not received any answers. They appointed the lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei to represent Jalali, but Mehran-Nia says that her husband’s case is sealed, and that Tabatabaei has not been allowed to read the case, or even to talk to her or his family.
IranWire contacted Alizadeh Tabatabaei, who confirmed that judiciary officials have not approved his appointment as attorney. The lawyer has been in this situation before, when he sought to represent Siamak and Baquer Namazi, father and son Iranian-Americans who have been given 10-year prison sentences. “They say that, according to a proviso to Article 48 of the Penal Code Bylaws, during the investigation phase they only accept lawyers who have been approved by the Judiciary Chief,” Tabatabaei said. “I was not on that list, so during preliminary investigations, they did not accept me as the lawyer.”
But the judiciary has yet to announce its list of approved lawyers. “Most of the lawyers I know have been told that they are not on the list,” Tabatabaei said. “And when it comes to trial they say that those few who were accepted during the investigations should represent [the accused] in court. Usually they will not accept a different lawyer.”
Tabatabaei believes the judiciary will have to remove this proviso eventually, because it actually creates problems for the judiciary itself.
I also asked asked Tabatabaei whether Judge Salavati had sentenced Dr. Jalali to be hanged. “His family came to me and consulted me,” he said, “but nobody knows anything about the case. The preliminary investigations have been just completed and the case has been sent to court. But nobody has read the case. He must have told this to his family during their phone conversation, but I have no information about it.”