WASHINGTON - The wife of an Iranian-Swedish medical doctor detained in Iran in 2016 and later sentenced to death for alleged espionage says Iranian officials have ignored her ailing husband’s request for leave from a coronavirus-afflicted prison.
In a Friday phone interview with VOA Persian from Sweden, Vida Mehran Nia said Iran’s judiciary has offered no response to release requests from her husband Ahmad Reza Jalali, his lawyers and the U.N. Human Rights Council. He is detained at Tehran’s Evin prison.
Mehran Nia expressed concern about Jalali’s wellbeing due to multiple illnesses that have made him vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, which rights activists have said has been spreading at Evin and other Iranian prisons in recent months. She said her husband has told her in daily phone conversations that he has been suffering from gastrointestinal disease, decreased production of blood cells and a weak immune system.
Jalali’s wife also said he has been kept in solitary confinement and deprived of access to basic services such as the prison library. “Perhaps that will help him to avoid contracting the virus,” she said.
Iran has granted temporary releases, or furloughs, to tens of thousands of prisoners since late February, in part to ease overcrowding in its unsanitary prisons and curb the spread of the virus. But it has refused to furlough prisoners serving more than five-year sentences for offenses designated as security crimes.
Jalali, a disaster medicine researcher who had been based in Sweden, was arrested in April 2016 while visiting Iran to attend a scientific conference at the invitation of Tehran University. Iran’s judiciary accused him of collaboration with hostile foreign governments and sentenced him to death in October 2017 for “sowing corruption on earth,” an offense punishable by execution.
Sweden granted Jalali citizenship in February 2018 in a, so far, unsuccessful bid to persuade Iran to commute his sentence.
The scientist appeared on Iranian state TV in December 2017, making a purported confession to providing information to Israel’s Mossad spy agency about Iranian military and nuclear scientists, two of whom were assassinated in 2010. Iran considers Israel to be its arch foe.
In a voice recording later posted on YouTube, Jalali was heard saying that his interrogators had forced him into making several videotaped confessions. His wife has campaigned for years to clear his name.
“Many Iranian judicial and security officials whom we have spoken to, are convinced of his innocence and the wrongfulness of his death sentence, but none are willing to publicly acknowledge this and accept responsibility for making a mistake,” Mehran Nia said.
It was not clear which officials Mehran Nia was referring to. She said her husband’s lawyers provided evidence proving his innocence to the judiciary a year-and-a-half ago, but it has refused to commute his death sentence. “He still is at risk of execution,” she said.
U.N. human rights experts affiliated to the U.N. Human Rights Council issued a statement in February 2018 calling on Iran to annul Jalali’s death sentence and release him.
The U.N. experts said the Iranian government had informed them that Jalali had been allowed meetings with his lawyers and phone calls with his family. But the experts said Iran “apparently” had not complied with its international obligations to give him a fair trial and a meaningful opportunity to appeal against his conviction.