Djalali’s death sentence shows Tehran’s endless persecution of ‘enemies of the state’

Djalali’s Kafkaesque trial is as ludicrous as legal process gets in the Islamic Republic.
December 17, 2017
A flyer with the picture of Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian academic reportedly sentenced to death for espionage, on display during a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in Brussels

Revolutions are generally believed to go through various stages: The collapse of the old regime is followed by a honeymoon phase enjoyed by victorious revolutionary factions. Next follow the rise of the radicals and reign of terror and, finally, the Thermidor — a reference to the 11th month in the French Republican calendar — ending radicalism and stabilising the revolutionary regime.

Some revolutionary regimes, however, never complete the transition to the Thermidorian phase. Terrorising the public, after all, is too useful an instru­ment of control to discard: The regime’s permanent persecution of enemies of the state, both real and imagined, plants fear into the hearts of the citizenry and keeps them in check.

Ahmadreza Djalali’s death sentence is a case in point. The 46-year-old researcher of emer­gency medicine and disaster management left Iran in 2009 to pursue further studies in Sweden. In April 2016, Djalali was invited to participate in disaster management work­shops at universities in Tehran and Shiraz. On April 24, 2016, he was arrested in Iran on no clear charges and put in solitary confinement at Evin Prison.

On January 31, 2017, Djalali, bereaved of his right to an at­torney, appeared before Judge Abolqasem Salavati at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, where he was formally charged with “espionage for Israel.” Sala­vati ominously warned Djalali he would face the death sentence.

On October 24, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, a Tehran prosecu­tor, confirmed the death sen­tence, claiming Djalali had held meetings with “eight Mossad officers” and provided them with the “contact information and physical characteristics of 30 individuals, both military and nuclear [scientists], which led to the assassination of those nuclear scientists.” The lat­ter refers to death of Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mo­stafa Ahmadi Roshan, who were assassinated from 2010-12.

It also seems that Djalali con­fessed to the crimes under du­ress. Najibeh Mortazavi, Djalali’s mother, claims interrogators put their hands on the Quran in front of her son and swore they would be lenient if he admitted to cooperating with Israel.

Needless to say, the interroga­tors did not let Djalali go. On December 9, Djalali’s lawyers learnt that Iran’s Supreme Court had upheld his death sentence on charges of “struggle against the regime,” “espionage” and “cooperation with the govern­ment of Israel.”

Djalali’s Kafkaesque trial is as ludicrous as legal process gets in the Islamic Republic. After all, how would a medical researcher be aware of the contact informa­tion and physical features of 30 leading military and nuclear science officials in the Islamic Republic?

If he was indeed among a close circle of the regime’s most trusted individuals and in pos­session of critical and sensi­tive information, why did the regime’s intelligence services allow him to leave Iran in the first place? If he was, as they say, a traitor, why did he run the risk of participating in academic workshops in Tehran and Shiraz?

No one is likely to believe the allegations against Djalali but producing a credible legal case is hardly the goal of the intel­ligence services behind this sickening show. The purpose is to terrorise the public into submission rather than to prove Djalali’s guilt.