Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran



“False and trumped-up charges, which I had rejected in clear defense arguments based on hundreds of pages of valid documents, lead to a death sentence following a trial that lasted less than three hours behind closed  doors, and where my request for expert and informed witnesses was rejected.” 

-Ahmadreza Jalali, open letter of March 7, 2018 [1]

Ahmadreza Jalali, an Iranian Swedish practitioner of disaster medicine, specializing in the improvement of hospitals’ emergency responses to armed terrorism and radiological, chemical, and biological threats, [2] may be at imminent risk of execution. His death sentence — issued by judge Abolqassem Salavati, notorious for harsh and politically-motivated sentencing — was the culmination of months of solitary confinement, interrogation, and rushed, opaque judicial proceedings. Judicial officials even failed to inform both him and his attorney of the Supreme Court hearing that would uphold this death sentence, originally ruled in a single-session, closed-door trial. Despite this lack of judicial transparency, Jalali has managed to collect and present information on his grossly unfair trial, and to defend himself against the charges brought against him. 

The right to defense was among the first casualties of the justice system instituted amid the Islamic Revolution of 1979. [3] The benches of revolutionary courts are packed with cronies of the regime who lack adequate legal training and hold in contempt the rights to due process and a fair trial. Consequently, the defendants tried in these courts, including those facing the death penalty, are routinely denied the right to a proper defense. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran has documented thousands of executions carried out following unfair and summary trials. The courts’ reliance on self-incriminating confessions coerced under torture in the absence of legal counsel, rather than comprehensive, evidence-based investigations, is systemic. Ahmadreza Jalali, who was charged with espionage, “enmity against God by way of espionage on behalf of Israel,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “collaboration with a hostile government,” is a case in point. 

Jalali was arrested on April 24, 2016 after attending a scientific conference in Iran at the invitation of two Iranian universities. [4] Since his arrest, he has spent all but a short time of his detention in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Information. [5] He has resorted to hunger strike in protest of myriad violations of his rights, and he has at times been denied medical care for his serious health problems. Jalali was tried and sentenced on October 21, 2017 in Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court. [6] On December 5, 2017, an appeals court upheld his verdict, which was confirmed five days later by Branch 33 of Iran’s Supreme Court. [7]

On December 17, 2017, state television aired a program in which Jalali spoke of collaborating with foreign powers. The program purported that  Jalali was working with Israeli agents and played a  role in the 2010 and 2012 killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. [8] In an audio recording smuggled out of prison, [9] Jalali related his deteriorated psychological state, and described the conditions under which he had agreed to read on camera a text drafted by intelligence agents, including their false promise to free him. He explained how his interrogators had claimed the production of the video was unrelated to his case, taken him blindfolded from prison in the middle of the night, and threatened to harm his five-year-old son. [10]

Jalali also denounced [11] the charges against him as baseless, arguing that: 

  • He never confessed to working with Israeli intelligence or having any role in the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists attributed to him during the television segment, and that any semblance of his confessing to either were  the result of deceptive editing;
  • These accusations were not discussed with him during interrogations and he was not informed of the charges, which appeared for the first time in the indictment issued  months after his arrest;
  • His alleged meeting with foreign intelligence assets could not have had any role in the death of the nuclear scientists, one of whom had already been killed months before the alleged meeting took place; [12
  • The information he was accused of having shared was readily available on the internet; that hundreds of pages of information substantiating this claim was in his case file;
  • He had been residing outside of Iran for more than a decade, and as such would not have had access to sensitive information or confidential documents;

The Ministry of Defense never  provided an example of the kind of secret information Jalali may have had access to before moving abroad.

Such a tenuous case for the prosecution should hardly lead to a conviction, let alone a death sentence; hence the secrecy and summary nature of Jalali’s trial. Judge Salavati delayed Jalali's initial hearing for months, refused to accept his attorneys of choice, and ignored his request to summon expert witnesses to evaluate hundreds of pages of exculpatory evidence. Judge Salavati’s decision was evidently made before the trial even began: prior to the session, he informed Jalali that his sentence would be death. [13] Supreme Court proceedings were held without his or his lawyer’s knowledge, denying him the opportunity to prepare a defense statement, and the branch which took his case lacked technical knowledge, as well as English competency, to review hundreds of pages of specialist evidence within a time frame of just a few days. [14]

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also found that Jalali’s case constituted an arbitrary detention under international human rights law, and that he had been denied a fair trial. In an opinion issued December 20, 2017, [15] the working group explained that deprivation of liberty is arbitrary when it falls into any of these five categories:

  1. When it is “clearly impossible” to invoke a legal basis justifying it; 
  2. When it results from the exercise of certain rights or freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  3. When neglect of international norms around fair trial (e.g. as enshrined in the UDHR), including international instruments accepted by a State, are sufficiently grave;
  4. When asylum seekers, immigrants, or refugees are held in administrative custody without possibility of judicial review;
  5. When it is discriminatory, i.e. violates international law surrounding discrimination on the basis of e.g. language, nationality, sexual orientation, or political opinion.

According to the Working Group, Jalali’s detention is arbitrary because it does not meet the category 1 “legal basis” standard. Arresting agents did not present a warrant to clarify the charges and legal grounds of the case against him; charges were in fact not communicated to him until late January 2017, some ten months after his arrest. Moreover, the fact that he was deprived of access to legal counsel means he lacked the means to challenge and clarify the basis of his detention. These failures flout Iran’s commitments per article 9 of the ICCPR to ensure that persons deprived of liberty are “informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for [their] arrest and… promptly informed of any charges against [them]” as well as their right to “take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order [their] release if the detention is not lawful.”

Jalali’s case also fails the category 3 “fair trial” standard, according to the Working Group. Authorities denied Jalali access to two lawyers of his choosing; they then appointed a third of their own choosing, but even this lawyer was not allowed to communicate freely with Jalali. These restrictions on legal counsel contravene, among other standards, article 14 (3)(b) of the ICCPR, which stipulates that “adequate time and facilities for the preparation of … defence and to communicate with counsel of [one’s] own choosing” as a “minimum guarantee” for all persons faced with criminal charges. 

Interrogators' coercion of Jalali to sign a confession, while he was being held incommunicado, violates article 14(3)(g) of the ICCPR, which states that no person faced with criminal charges can be “compelled to testify against [themselves] or to confess guilt.” This coercion breaches anti-torture norms enshrined in such documents as the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

The Working Group also found that the poor conditions of Jalali’s detention negatively impacted his ability to prepare a defense, and thus his chances of a fair trial. Authorities’ denial of medication and treatment for serious health conditions, in particular, is contrary to Nelson Mandela Rules 24, 25, 27, and 30. 

Finally, authorities’ failure to inform Jalali’s family of his location and status constitutes a violation of principle 19 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. [16]
“Whichever organ I went to [to follow up on my son’s case], they not only insulted me, but kicked me out. They said they didn’t care… I knocked on every possible door, even judges insulted me.”
Najib Mortazavi, mother of Ahmadreza Jalali [17]
As of November 24 of this year, Ahmadreza Jalali had been transferred to solitary confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, [18] with a final destination of Rajai Shahr Prison, in line with the implementation of his death sentence, according to his wife. [19]

As the news of Jalali’s transfer to Rajai Shahr was confirmed on December 1, 2020, his exhausted spouse, in an interview with BBC Persian, insisted on his innocence and called on European governments, including Sweden, as well as the government of Iran, to prevent his execution. [20]

Iran’s Foreign Ministry response to concerns expressed by the Swedish Foreign Minister over news of Ahmadreza Jalali’s transfer, and its insistence on the independence of Iran’s  judiciary, is nothing more than an evasion of responsibility. Defensive statements such as “any [foreign] interference in the issuing or enforcement of judicial verdicts is rejected and unacceptable" [21] completely sidestep the fact that Jalali has been convicted in a grossly unfair trial that proceeded in violation of Iran’s obligations under international human rights law. 

Iranian authorities must immediately halt the implementation of Jalali's death sentence, per the urgent demands of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Iran and on arbitrary, summary, and extrajudicial executions. [22] ABC also calls on Iranian authorities to immediately release Jalali and grant him a new, fair trial. Iran’s judiciary must give Jalali access to a lawyer of his choosing, adequate time to prepare a defense, and exclude any evidence obtained through coercion. 

[1]  Letter of Ahmadreza Jalali published by HRANA, March 7, 2018, https://www.hra-news.org/letters/a-511/

[2] Letter of international organizations to the European Union on Jalali’s case, November 25, 2020, https://fidu.it/joint-appeal-for-doctor-ahmadreza-djalali/

[3] See “The Cost of Defending the Rule of Law: Four Decades of Persecution of Lawyers in Iran “ https://www.iranrights.org/projects/timeline

[4] IranWire, November 25, 2020, https://iranwire.com/en/features/8122

[5] HRANA, February 18, 2017, https://www.hra-news.org/2017/hranews/a-9805/

 and November 24, 2020, https://www.hra-news.org/2020/hranews/a-27613/

[6] BBC Persian, July 26, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-features-53183165

[7] IranWire, November 25, 2020, https://iranwire.com/en/features/8122

[8] Archived at Tabnak, December 18, 2017 https://www.tabnak.ir/fa/news/756335/

[9] BBC Persian, December, 19, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-42420138

[10] IranWire, November 25, 2020, https://iranwire.com/en/features/8122

[11] Letter of Ahmadreza Jalali published by HRANA, March 7, 2018, https://www.hra-news.org/letters/a-511/

[12] Letter of Ahmadreza Jalali published by HRANA, March 7, 2018, https://www.hra-news.org/letters/a-511/

[13] HRANA, February 18, 2017, https://www.hra-news.org/2017/hranews/a-9805/

[14] Letter of Ahmadreza Jalali published by HRANA, March 7, 2018, https://www.hra-news.org/letters/a-511/

[15] Opinion No. 92/2017 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (80th session, 20-24 November 2017) https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/A_HRC_WGAD_2017_92.pdf

[16] “A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and to correspond with, in particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world, subject to reasonable conditions and restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations.” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/DetentionOrImprisonment.aspx

[17] Except from program of Massih Alinejad, November 24, 2020, published on Twitter account of Massih Alinejad, https://twitter.com/AlinejadMasih/status/1331402777747206145

[18] Jalali was taken to the Sentence Implementation Office at Evin before being transferred to solitary quarantine. The transfer order noted that Jalali would be held in quarantine for one week for purposes of “carrying out formalities of death sentence implementation”. HRANA, November 24, 2020, https://www.hra-news.org/2020/hranews/a-27613/

[19] Sverige Radio, November 24, 2020, https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/7607251, quoting Jalali’s wife, Vida Mehran Nia

[20] BBC television, December 1, 2020

[21] Tasnim, November 25, 2020, https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/11/25/2396699/spokesman-dismisses-sweden-s-stance-on-iranian-inmate

[22] United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner, November 25, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26543&LangID=E