Iran Has Sentenced a ‘Mossad’ Spy to Death. But He’s Not a Spy. So, Why?
Iran is still furious about the string of murders targeting its nuclear scientists earlier this decade, and every so often it appears to need a scapegoat.
On Tuesday, October 24, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that a “Mossad agent” had been sentenced to death. The prosecutor said the "agent" had been found guilty of conspiring with Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
At least four Iranian scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012, leading Tehran to accuse Israel and the United States of carrying out a program of assassinations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
In early 2011, a young Iranian named Majid Fashi confessed on Iranian state television to the killing of one of the scientists, saying that he had trained for the operation at a Mossad facility near Tel Aviv. Fashi was executed in May 2012.
Speaking about this week’s death sentence for an alleged similar crime, Dowlatabadi said, ”The person had several meetings with Mossad and provided them with sensitive information about Iran's military and nuclear sites in return for money and residency in Sweden.”
During his announcement, the prosecutor did not mention the individual’s name or nationality, but a week later there is no doubt. Even before the annoucement, Dabir Daryabeigi, one of the lawyers for Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish resident currently imprisoned in Iran, reported that his client had received a death sentence.
Jalali, an Iranian citizen with permanent residency in Sweden, is a physician and researcher specializing in medicine for disaster relief, and teaches at Vrije University Brussel (VUB) in Belgium. He has been working on disaster relief since 1999, and has been involved in more than 25 research projects.
Most recently before his arrest, he had been working on a European project to develop training courses for E.U.-based strategic managers and professionals helping countries affected by natural disasters. [Iran frequently suffers from massive earthquakes with a huge loss of life.] At the same time, he had also been working with the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy to improve the performance of centers that deal with the aftermath of earthquakes and floods in underdeveloped countries.
Jalali was arrested on April 24, 2016, just three days before he was to return home after visiting Iran at the invitation of Tehran University. His family were left uninformed about his whereabouts for a week after his arrest, at which point he was allowed to telephone them. He told his family he had been detained and charged with “collaborating with an enemy state.”
“We are really in shock,” Vida Mehran-Nia, Jalali’s wife, told IranWire. “We cannot believe the accusation and the sentence against Ahmad Reza. I am ready to send them our immigration documents to show that we got our residency through studying in Sweden. The Swedish embassy and immigration office must do the same because this is a serious charge. You might not believe it but until today I did not even know what kind of organization Mossad is and what its agents do.”
Mehran-Nia says the accusation that her husband was paid to give secrets to Israel is ridiculous—not least because it’s clear the family does not have a large income. “If they say that we received money from Israel or Mossad then let them check all our accounts,” she said after a short pause. “We still don’t own a house or a car even though my husband is a doctor. I have a Master’s in chemistry and we both work.”
Seventeen months after his arrest, Dr. Jalali appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday, August 23, 2017. He was brought before the Revolutionary Court Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who is listed on the European Union’s sanctions list for violations of human rights.
According to Mehran-Nia, Jalali’s interrogators were present during the court session. “Ahmad Reza had complained against the interrogators and had said that they had forced him to confess while in solitary confinement [through] threats and by putting him under mental pressure,” she told IranWire. “Most of the questions asked in the court were about this. Ahmad Reza told the court: ‘I retract whatever I have signed because I signed under severe mental duress and because they threatened the life of my family. I do not accept any of the charges.’”
Mehran-Nia said that before the trial, Jalali’s interrogators had threatened him with execution. After he was verbally informed that Judge Salavati had sentenced him to death without a trial, Jalali protested by going on hunger strike. “He was on hunger strike once for 45 days and a second time for 43 days, with one week between the two,” his wife said.
“After the trial we were hoping that his case would be handled justly and these baseless charges would be dropped,” she said.
There have been some reports that Jalali had worked with an Israeli colleague on the treatment centers project, and that is why he had been accused of working with an “enemy state.” But Mehran-Nia said this was misleading. “At a scientific conference, Ahmad Reza talked with this Israeli colleague for a couple of minutes about a scientific subject,” she said. “When his Italian colleagues heard about this charge the only thing they could think of was that their team included an Israeli researcher. But we knew nothing about it. Many scientists from various countries work on university research projects but they are colleagues only in scientific work and have no other relationship.”
Dowlatabadi said that the convicted person had given Mossad information about 30 key nuclear and military scientists, including Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, who was killed by a remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorcycle outside his home in Tehran in January 2010, and the nuclear engineer Majid Shahriari, who was assassinated in a bomb attack in November 2010.
Vida Mehran-Nia said that she was pursuing Jalali’s case through international organizations and that she was contacting the Swedish embassy about the charges Dowlatabadi had announced. “They must help us and explain our residency permit,” she said, “because it is not only about Ahmad Reza. The Swedish government has also been accused of receiving money from Israel to give us residency.”
“The Iranian authorities must urgently quash the death sentence against Iranian-born Swedish resident and specialist in emergency medicine Ahmadreza Jalali,” demanded Amnesty International on October 23.
“Ahmad Reza Jalali was sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial that once again exposes not only the Iranian authorities’ steadfast commitment to use of the death penalty but their utter contempt for the rule of law,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“No evidence has ever been presented to show that he is anything other than an academic peacefully pursuing his profession. If he has been convicted and sentenced for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including through his academic work, the authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him and drop all charges against him.”
Luther also said Iran should consider its relationship with the international community. “At a time when the Iranian authorities are actively strengthening ties with countries in the European Union, it is absurd that they are using Ahmad Reza Jalali’s academic links to a European country as part of the ‘evidence’ against him,” he said.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists also published a letter defending Jalali and calling for his release.
The Swedish government also condemned the sentence and said it had raised the matter with Iranian representatives in both Stockholm and Tehran. "We condemn the use of the death penalty in all its forms. The death penalty is an inhuman, cruel, and irreversible punishment that has no place in modern law," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in an e-mailed comment to Reuters.
“We talked today,” Mehran-Nia said when her husband was informed of the death sentence. “Ahmad Reza is in shock. My children don’t know about it yet. I am wondering how to prove my husband’s innocence.”