Ahmadreza Djalali honored with 2021 Courage to Think Award

Posted November 9, 2021

Scholars at Risk (SAR) announced today that Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is the recipient of its Courage to Think Award for 2021. Dr. Djalali, a prominent scholar of disaster medicine sentenced to death in Iran, is being recognized for his struggle for academic freedom and connection to the international academic community.

The Courage to Think Award recognizes individuals, groups, or institutions that demonstrate an exemplary commitment to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom, whether through professional work, private or community service, or by facing personal risk. Dr. Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will accept the award on Dr. Djalali’s behalf at SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free, online event are available here.

Dr. Djalali is an Iranian-Swedish scholar who has held academic positions at Karolinska Institute, in Sweden; the Università del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy; and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium. In December 2020, he was awarded a Scholars at Risk Fellowship at Harvard University, in the United States.

“The continued imprisonment, extreme sentence, and mistreatment of Dr. Djalali in custody should be of grave concern for anyone who cares about the ability of scholars to work safely,” said Rob Quinn, executive director of SAR. “No scholar should face a death sentence, solitary confinement, and withholding of medical care for their academic or scientific work.”

Not only has Dr. Djalali helped the development of the field of disaster medicine at higher education institutions, but he has also put his expertise into practice by supporting communities impacted by crises. Dr. Djalali provided medical aid, health services, and education to communities impacted by floods, earthquakes, and other disasters in Iran, including the 2003 Bam earthquake. While at the Center for Research and Training in Disaster Medicine, Humanitarian Aid, and Global Health (CRIMEDIM), in Italy, Dr. Djalali dedicated his research to resilience and performance of health systems, hospitals, and medical and rescue staff, and trained hundreds of humanitarian and medical staff around the world.

Dr. Djalali was arrested in April 2016 during a trip to Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. It is strongly believed that he was targeted because of his ties to the international academic community, and the belief that he might trade his freedom in exchange for working for the Iranian intelligence service. On October 21, 2017, Dr. Djalali was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth,” based on unsubstantiated allegations that he had provided intelligence to a foreign government. Dr. Djalali was denied the right to appeal the conviction and sentence and has suffered from torture, ill-treatment, and a growing number of medical complications while in state custody.

On November 24, 2020, Iranian authorities moved Dr. Djalali to solitary confinement in preparation to carry out his death sentence. Dr. Djalali spent five nightmarish months in solitary confinement, awaiting imminent execution, until April 14, 2021, when authorities transferred him to a multiple-occupancy cell.

For years, Dr. Djalali has been denied access to appropriate medical care for numerous health complications that worsened while he was in solitary confinement. These include leukemia, severe weight loss, chronic gastritis, low heart rate, and hypotension, gallstones, partial paralysis of the right foot, indirect inguinal hernia, hemorrhoid and fissures, low blood cell count, low levels of calcium and vitamin D, malnutrition, dyspepsia, and depression.

Authorities continue to deny Dr. Djalali access to his lawyer and his family in Iran, and from making calls to his wife and children in Sweden.

Since Dr. Djalali’s imprisonment, at least 21 members of the SAR network, 14 Student Advocacy Seminars, six SAR sections, and several partner organizations and associations have taken action to advocate for his release. While recognizing Dr. Djalali with the Courage to Think Award, SAR renews its calls to the network to continue to support Dr. Djalali by raising his case with their government representatives; to the European Union, European state governments, and the United States government to take all available actions to secure the release of Dr. Djalali; and to Iranian authorities to secure Dr. Djalali’s immediate release, and, pending such action, to ensure his well-being and access to legal counsel, family, and medical treatment.

The 2021 Courage to Think award will be presented during SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free, online event are available here.

Now more than ever, the international higher education, scientific, and human rights communities must come together to demand Dr. Djalali’s release so he can finally reunite with his family and continue his important work.

You can support Dr. Djalali by taking the below actions:

  1. Raise awareness over social media.
    1. Post this tweet.
    2. Alternatively, make your own tweet, using #SaveAhmadreza and tagging @ScholarsAtRisk, your minister for foreign affairs, and other relevant government officials.
  2. Write to Iranian authorities.
    1. As an organization or association, issue a letter of appeal to Iranian authorities (see SAR’s template letter here).
    2. As an individual, sign and send SAR’s letter of appeal.
  3. Arrange a meeting with members of your government to raise Dr. Djalali’s case. See detailed instructions here.
  4. Arrange a meeting with Iranian officials to call for Dr. Djalali’s release. See detailed instructions here.