SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 01, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Eastern Piedmont | Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Iran

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 1, 2017, Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian scholar who has been imprisoned in Iran since April 2016 in connection with international collaboration with scholars from states Iran considers to be “enemy states,” was reportedly forced to sign a confession admitting to crimes against the national security of Iran. In addition, he was reportedly threatened with the charge of “moharebeh” (enmity against God), which carries the death sentence.

An Iranian-born resident of Sweden, Dr. Djalali is a research associate in disaster medicine at the Center for Research and Education in Emergency and Disaster Medicine at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy. He also teaches as a visiting professor in the European Master in Disaster Medicine, a joint master program of the Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. Dr. Djalali collaborates with several Iranian universities, including the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. His academic work involves international scientific collaboration in the area of emergency and disaster relief.

In April 2016, Dr. Djalali traveled to Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. On April 24 or 25, 2016 he was arrested by Iranian security forces. He has since been detained in Evin Prison in Tehran, where he was reportedly held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer until an unknown date in December 2016, when he was transferred to a public ward. Dr. Djalali has reportedly been on hunger strike on four separate occasions, including a current ongoing hunger strike. He has reportedly lost close to 20 kilograms of bodyweight.

On February 1, 2017, Dr. Djalali reportedly informed his sister that he had been forced to sign a confession, the exact contents of which are unknown, but which reportedly relates to crimes against the national security of Iran. Following the confession, Dr. Djalali was reportedly sentenced to the death penalty, to be executed within two weeks. Dr. Djalali’s wife and academic colleagues have all strongly rejected any possible national security charges against him, citing his dedication to international scientific collaboration.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the arrest, imprisonment, and impending death sentence of a scholar. International collaboration and the lawful, non-violent exchange of ideas are fundamental parts of academic life, and must not be the bases for detentions, prosecutions, or capital punishment. In addition to the grave harm to the immediate victim and their family, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from wrongful arrests and sentencing of scholars for exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and academic freedom. Scholars at Risk respectfully urges the Iranian authorities to reverse Dr. Djalali’s capital sentence; pending such action, Iranian authorities should ensure Dr. Djalali’s human rights while in custody, including ensuring access to medical care and to family; and that in the interim, his case is addressed in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and detention, in accordance with Iran’s obligations under international law.