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75 Nobel Laureates protest Iranian researcher’s death sentence

75 Nobel Laureates protest Iranian researcher’s death sentence

A group of 75 Nobel Laureates has signed an open letter addressed to the Iranian government, protesting the death sentence of an Iranian researcher.

Ahmadreza Djalali, an expert in emergency disaster medicine, was imprisoned by Iranian authorities in April 2016. He is affiliated with Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and Italy’s University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara where he was studying new ways to improve hospitals’ emergency responses to "armed terrorism and radiological, chemical, and biological threats." While Djalali was on a visit to Tehran on Tehran University’s official invitation, he was accused of spying and charged for “collaboration with a hostile government.” Following a trial which declared him guilty of spying in exchange for monetary and professional favors, in October 2017, a court in Tehran sentenced him to death.

Several academic and non-academic organizations have condemned this decision and the treatment meted out to Djalali. A petition has been filed calling for his release on which has over 260,000 signatures. An academic freedom network called Scholars at Risk has urged “the appropriate authorities to release and drop the charges against Dr. Djalali.” Apart from these, the universities Djalali is affiliated with have condemned the action taken against him too.   

However, in what seems to be the most powerful protest, 75 Nobel Laureates expressed their disapproval of the unfair trial conducted by the Iranian government. Signed by prominent academics including Andre Geim, a physicist based at the University of Manchester, UK, and Harold Varmus, at the Weill Cornell Medicine Institute, New York, the open letter demands that Djalali be allowed to return to Sweden where he resides. Referring to themselves as “members of a group of people (and organizations) who, according to the will of Alfred Nobel are deeply committed to the greatest benefit to mankind,” the group has urged “the Iranian authorities to let Ahmadreza come back home to his wife and children, and to continue his scholarly work for the benefit of mankind.”

Shortly before Djalali was sentenced, a document was released by his contact which claimed that Djalali refused to spy on European countries for Iran to obtain sensitive information on their research projects and other data such as their nuclear and counter-terrorism related capabilities. However, when he refused to comply, the Iranian government arrested him.

This is not the first time Iran has arrested academics who have claimed to have been targeted for refusing to spy. Hamid Babaei, a PhD student in Belgium, is serving a sentence of six years of imprisonment in Iran. Babaei maintains that he has been punished “for refusing to cooperate with the Intelligence Ministry.” Another academic who was arrested by Iran is Omid Kokabee, who was released in October 2016 after he had served five years of imprisonment, charged for “illegal earnings” and "communication with a hostile government." Kokabee, too, believes he was persecuted for his noncompliance with Iran’s nuclear military program.  

It remains to be seen whether Iran considers the appeals to release Djalali. Do you also want to add any social media discussions about this to show that the decision has deeply affected the scholarly community? 

Related reading:

Science in Iran in the pre and post sanctions era

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