As civil society organizations and policy experts concerned with U.S. and EU policy toward Iran, we are deeply concerned by reports that Iranian-Swedish doctor Ahmadreza Djalali faces imminent execution in Iran. All stakeholders should urge Iranian authorities to refrain from carrying out this cruelty, which will only serve to further diminish links between Iran and the outside world and exacerbate tensions at a dangerous time.
We believe that diplomacy with adversaries is of paramount importance and vastly preferable to the alternatives of sanctions, saber rattling and war. It was through principled diplomacy that the US and its traditional allies in Europe achieved a robust agreement that closed off Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons in 2015. This was followed by US negotiators securing the release of American nationals held by the Islamic Republic in January 2016. The Trump administration reneging on the nuclear deal undermined U.S. security interests and, rather than exert further pressure on Iran over its human rights abuses, empowered the most repressive forces in the Islamic Republic. We call on the Biden administration and the European Union to follow the diplomatic model to secure the release of Djalali and other dual and foreign nationals unjustly detained in Iran.
Djalali is one of many dual nationals who have been arrested in Iran over the years and imprisoned on arbitrary charges. Iran’s government has appallingly used these individuals as political pawns in violation of its own laws. In Djalali’s case, he was invited to the country by the University of Tehran in April 2016 only to be arrested and placed in solitary confinement for over three months. In October 2017, he was sentenced to death on allegations of “collaborating with a hostile government.”
Djalali has denied the charges against him and wrote in a Dec. 2017 letter from prison that he was being held because he refused to use his relationships in academia to spy for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also concluded in 2017 that the charges against Djalali were “arbitrary” and that there were “serious breaches” to his right to a fair trial. Moreover, a committee of UN human rights experts called for his release in March 2021 and stated, “There is only one word to describe the severe physical and psychological ill-treatment of Djalali, and that is torture.”
Against this backdrop, the spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary announced on May 10 that the execution sentence for Djalali is “definitive.” This disturbing development, which would be a gross violation of Iran’s international human rights obligations, comes amid an impasse in the negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear deal and rising tensions between Tehran and the West.
While we believe a return to the nuclear agreement is vital to preventing a catastrophic conflict, we also urge the Biden administration to pursue a comprehensive policy towards Iran that addresses human rights. The US and its allies must engage Iran, parallel and separate from ongoing and crucial nuclear negotiations, on human rights and press the Islamic Republic to end its egregious practice of wrongful detentions.
National Iranian American Council
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Miaan Group
Win Without War
Dr. Jim Walsh, MIT