On Sunday, December 17, Iranian state-run TV broadcast a “documentary” about the confessions of and alleged crimes committed by Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, the scientist who has been sentenced to death on charges of spying for Israel. In a phone conversation recorded by his family on Monday, December 18, Jalali said that he had confessed under torture and after authorities made threats against the life of his son.
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. Iranian universities had invited him to Iran several times, and, in 2016, he was invited to the country by Tehran University. He was arrested on April 24, 2016, just three days before he was to return home, and accused of providing information to Mossad that led to the assassination of two nuclear scientists, Majid Shahriari and Massoud Ali-Mohammadi.
In October, Jalali was sentenced to death for espionage. In early December, Iran’s supreme court upheld the death penalty. Amnesty International, the European Union, and scientists campaigning for the protection and freedom of academics have all condemned the verdict. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry responded to international protests by broadcasting Jalali’s confessions as part of a video about his alleged crimes. [Persian video].
In the recorded conversation — the authenticity of which was confirmed by Jalali’s wife Vida Mehran Nia — he disowns the recorded confessions used in the so-called documentary. Prior to the broadcast of these confessions, Jalali managed to post an audio message online, in which he called the charges against him bogus [Persian video]. “He said that he was forced to sit in front of the camera by threats, torture and intimidation,” says Mehran Nia. “They had given him his [civilian] clothes and had told him that he would be released after he made the confession.”
His confessions have been aired many times on Iranian TV. “He has seen the video twice and both times he has been very upset,” says his wife. “He decided to use the opportunity for a phone conversation with his family to deny the charges.”
In the new recorded audio clip, Jalali says that his interrogators forced him make the confessions while he was in solitary confinement and had no access to a lawyer. He points out that nowhere in his confessions does he say that he worked with any spy agency, and says he does not accept any of the charges or accusations set out by the video’s narrator. While still living in Iran, Jalali had worked with the Ministry of Defense for a period, but in the recording he confirms his work there ended in 2004 and that he had no information to give to a spy agency or anybody else.
“You Have No Information”
“In 2012, during one of Ahmad Reza’s trips to Iran he was attacked by muggers and his laptop was stolen,” says his wife. “He reported the robbery to both the police and the Ministry of Defense. They told him that it was not important because ‘you have not worked with the Ministry of Defense for years and you have no information.’ I cannot understand how they can now say that he has passed on information about the nuclear scientists.”
In the recording, Jalali points out that he met Massoud Ali-Mohammadi only once at a conference in 2002, eight years before his assassination. They talked for a few minutes about medical and educational subjects. He also points to inconsistencies in the video aired on Iranian TV, including the date of Ali-Mohammadi’s assassination and the date of Jalali’s time in Iran. Jalali says the scientist was assassinated four months before Jalali left Iran and so he could not possibly have passed on information leading to the crime.
According to Mehran Nia, during one of his trips to Iran the Defense Ministry ask Jalali to work with them. “In 2014 they had a few hours of talk with him and asked him to inform them about the projects in Europe that he was working on,” she says. “Of course, I have no idea what exactly they wanted. The only thing I know is that Ahmad Reza told them: ‘I am only a medical researcher in these projects and I have no other information.’”
She suspects that Jalali’s rejection of this request from the Defense Ministry might have something to do with his current ordeal.
“There is one other thing,” she says. “The examining magistrate assigned to Ahmad Reza’s case was Mr. Ghanaatkar, who has signed many death verdicts. But in this case he said that he believed Ahmad Reza was innocent and did not sign the verdict. But the interrogators did not let go because he [Jalali] had filed a complaint against them. They had the Intelligence Ministry approve Ahmad Reza’s death sentence.”
Paid How Much?
In the TV account of Jalali’s confessions, the narrator claims that Jalali had met Mossad agents 50 times and had been paid for doing so. Jalali denies this charge as well. “There is no evidence for the false claim or the verdict against me that I received €50,000,” he says. “Even what I was forced to write and what they used as evidence and displayed in the video shows that what the Intelligence Ministry claims I received was at most €28,000 over five years.” He added that, considering he was a professor working in the most important scientific centers in Europe, this is not an unreasonable amount for him to have earned, and therefore authorities are making “a baseless accusation” against him.
In her interviews with the press, Mehran Nia has repeatedly asked that the couple's bank accounts be investigated. “If Ahmad Reza received money from Mossad how come we do not own a house?” she told IranWire in a previous conversation.
In the recent audio clip, Jalali finishes his statement by pointing out that his trial was conducted in secret and that his death penalty was upheld by Iran’s supreme court too quickly. He asks to be tried in a fair and public court by an impartial jury.
If the past is any indication, it is possible that after the publication of this recording, Jalali might be sent to solitary confinement and lose the privilege of phone conversations with his family. He must have suspected such an outcome. “The moment they move me to solitary I will go on hunger strike,” he told his family. “I have been subject to injustice.”
According to his wife, Jalali has lost a lot of weight over the last 10 days and he has asked to be hospitalized. But so far, the judge has not agreed to his request.