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Swedish citizen risking Iran execution is ‘hostage’: Amnesty

An Iranian-Swedish citizen facing imminent execution in Iran is being held as a hostage by Tehran in a bid to force Belgium and Sweden to make concessions in two cases concerning former Iranian officials, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Ahmadreza Djalali was sentenced to death in 2017 on espionage charges dismissed by Stockholm and his supporters. Iranian media have said he could be hanged by May 21 in a verdict that officials have repeatedly insisted will be carried out.

“Mounting evidence strongly indicates that the Iranian authorities are holding… Djalali hostage and threatening to execute him to compel third parties to swap him for former Iranian officials convicted or on trial abroad, as well as to refrain from future prosecutions of Iranian officials,” Amnesty International said.

In an unprecedented case, a Swedish court is trying Hamid Noury, a former prison official, over his alleged involvement over massacres in Iranian prisons in 1988, with the verdict expected on July 14.

Nouri, who was arrested in Sweden in November 2019, is being tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows states to investigate serious crimes that were committed abroad.

Meanwhile, Assadollah Assadi, a former Iranian diplomat, is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for his role in a thwarted 2018 bomb attack in France against a meeting of an exiled opposition group.

Prior to his arrest, Djalali was a visiting professor in disaster medicine at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a research university in Brussels, Amnesty noted. He was detained in Iran in April 2016.

“The Iranian authorities are using Ahmadreza Djalali’s life as a pawn in a cruel political game, escalating their threats to execute him in retaliation for their demands going unmet,” said Diana Eltahawy, the London-based NGO’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The authorities are attempting to pervert the course of justice in Sweden and Belgium, and should be investigated for the crime of hostage taking,” she added.

Amnesty said that since at least late 2020, the Iranian authorities had been “conditioning” Djalali’s fate on seeking a “deal” with Belgium to swap him for Assadi and with Sweden for Noury.

Over a dozen Western nationals are held in Iran in what activists argue is a policy of hostage-taking aimed at extracting concessions from the West. Two more French citizens were detained earlier this month.

Meanwhile German citizen Jamshid Sharmahd and Swedish citizen Habib Chaab are being tried on security-related charges for which they could be sentenced to death. Activists believe both were abducted by Iran while abroad.

Djalali’s case comes “against the backdrop of the Iranian authorities’ well-documented and long-standing pattern of targeting dual and foreign nationals for arbitrary detention and using them for “diplomatic leverage” or “as a means to put pressure on foreign governments”, Amnesty said.