First the words “He Is the All-Seeing” appear on the TV screen — a moment of devout contemplation before the broadcast begins. Then comes the “documentary” showing the confessions of Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, who faces the death penalty for espionage. The video was aired on Iranian state TV so that all Iranians could view it.
Dr. Jalali, an Iranian citizen with permanent residency in Sweden, is a physician and researcher who specializes 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. 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 worked 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 until he was allowed to telephone them. He told his family he had been detained and charged with “collaborating with an enemy state.”
On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that a “Mossad agent” had been sentenced to death. He said the "agent" had been found guilty of conspiring with Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. The death sentence — which Iran’s supreme court upheld in early December — has been condemned by Amnesty International, the European Union, and scientists campaigning for the protection and freedom of academics.
The Iranian Intelligence Ministry responded to international protests by broadcasting Jalali’s confessions as part of a video about his alleged crimes. [Persian video]. It starts with a notification for viewers that parts of the “interview” will not be shown for “security reasons.” Then comes the narration, which refers to “the extensive attacks by western media and the opposition against the Intelligence Ministry and the Judiciary in connection with the arrest of Ahmad Reza Jalali.” This is followed by clips from western media and an interview with Jalali’s wife Vida Mehran Nia.
After the court handed down the death sentence, and before his confessions were aired, Jalali managed to post an audio message online, in which he called the charges against him bogus [Persian video]. In his message, he said he had been forced under torture and threats from his interrogators to read a statement in front of the camera.
“We Will Kill Your Son”
“For three months he was kept in a three-meter solitary cell,” Jalali’s wife Vida Mehran Nia told IranWire. “They threatened him that if he did not cooperate they will keep him there until he dies and nobody would know. They told him that they would kill our five-year-old son. They blindfolded him and took him out of Evin Prison in the middle of the night. They had a script ready and told him that after recording the video he would be released. ‘This video has nothing to do with you,’ he was told. ‘We want it for another purpose.’”
Mehran Nia describes how her husband was forced to follow the prepared script line by line. “Ahmad Reza was saying that if he misplaced one word, they would shout and swear at him, turn the camera off and start recording from the beginning.”
In the recent broadcast, the narrator announces: “In this documentary we want to see who Ahmad Reza Jalali is and why he was arrested in Iran.” Then we see Jalali, who says that while he was living in Iran he had worked for the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Defense. Between 2001 and 2003, he says, he had worked in “important projects” and in 2008 he went to Europe to continue his education. The narrator adds that when Jalali was studying in Europe he was “snared” by the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency.
In his confession, Jalali makes no mention of Mossad. He says that while he was taking a course, an individual by the name of Thomas contacted him and presented himself as an expert in disasters and security. He adds that he thought the individual worked for one of the European Union security agencies. The narrator, however, says that the individual named “Thomas” was actually a Mossad officer.
“If my husband worked with Israel and Mossad,” his wife says, “how come the video does not show a single picture of him and them? Why they have only used pictures of him on scientific projects?”
She recognizes photographs of Jalali’s colleagues in the video. She says that others might not recognize who they are, but she does, and they are not Mossad agents as Iranian authorities might claim. “I know those who are standing next to Ahmad Reza.” She names two of them, Italian professors in disaster medicine. She says there is no proof that any of the people in these photographs are Mossad officers or spies.
The narrator says that Mossad officers asked Jalali for information about Iran’s nuclear projects and scientists, and that he provided them with the information in exchange for money and a residency permit for a European country. According to the video, the information Jalali provided led to the assassination of two nuclear scientists, Majid Shahriari and Massoud Ali-Mohammadi.
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.
The Interrogators’ Scenario
In the video, Jalali confesses that he had worked with the assassinated nuclear scientists on a project. It also features an interrogation transcript showing the names of Ali-Mohammadi and Shahriari. “Ahmad Reza told me that he only met the two at a scientific conference around seven or eight years before they were assassinated,” says Mehran Nia. “He said that they talked a few minutes about a scientific matter and he does not even remember their faces. What he said in the video about working with these scientists was the scenario written by the interrogators.”
According to his wife, Jalali filed a complained against the interrogators with the court over his forced confession and described it in detail during his trial. He had hoped for some resolution but the court was presided over by the Revolutionary Court judge Abolghasem Salavati, well known for his human rights violations. Not only were the interrogators not charged — but they were allowed to testify against Jalali in court.
Vida Mehran Nia is still in shock over the recent developments. But she remembers very clearly that when the two nuclear scientists were assassinated, she and her husband had yet to move to Sweden, where Jalali continued his education. “We were not here yet,” she says, “but they claim that Ahmad Reza passed on information about them [to Mossad]. They showed him his residency card and told him to say that he got the permit in exchange for his cooperation [with Israel]. I have said repeatedly that I have asked the Swedish government to make it clear that we got our residency permit through the university. Not only for us, but on the residency permits of many Ph.D. students, it is specified that the permit has been issued for being students. Now they are casting suspicion on the government of Sweden because they claim that the Swedish immigration office has received money from Israel to give us a residency permit.”
The Second Phone
The Jalali video also claims to explain how he communicated with Mossad. In his confession, Jalali says he used a phone that was not from any of the European countries where he lived or worked. The narrator claims that Jalali passed on to Mossad extensive information about nuclear scientists and that he was trained in how to escape notice by security agencies. The information, the narrator claims, enabled Mossad to assassinate the scientists.
Mehran Nia insists that Jalali’s confessions were obtained under torture and while he had no access to a lawyer. Jalali’s first choice for a lawyer was Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, who has represented a number of high profile cases, including journalists who had been accused of being part of an “infiltration network” and dual Iranian-American nationals Siamak and Baquer Namazi. But the court rejected this appointment. “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 told IranWire in September. “I was not on that list, so during preliminary investigations, they did not accept me as the lawyer.”
Judge Salavati also rejected Jalali’s second lawyer, Zeinab Taheri. Jalali’s mother has said that Taheri was threatened and was forced to quit the case.
The third lawyer to be appointed was Dabir Daryabeigi, whom Salavati approved. He has recently been allowed to see the dossier, but Mehran Nia believes that he has done nothing for her husband. “He told me that he had read the file,” says Mehran Nia. “He said that there is nothing ambiguous about it and that if they are very strict they might give him six months in prison. But in practice he did nothing. When we received the verdict [the death sentence] he said that he was sure the supreme court would void it — but the supreme court had issued its verdict two days earlier and he did not say a word about it.”
Jalali’s physical and psychological condition has deteriorated in recent days. “Since the supreme court upheld the verdict he has not been doing well,” says Mehran Nia. He has lost eight kilos and says he requires hospitalization, but Judge Salavati has not allowed it.
Mehran Nia believes that the video of her husband’s confessions was aired as a response to protests by the international community and by human rights organizations. “They [the authorities] want to say that the verdict was not baseless,” she says. “But I am convinced that my husband is not guilty. That is why I support him.”