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Trial of Stockholm academic facing death penalty in Iran begins

The trial of a Stockholm academic who is detained in Iran on what Amnesty International calls 'extremely vague grounds' and could face the death penalty is set to get under way.

Trial of Stockholm academic facing death penalty in Iran begins
Ahmadreza Djalali has been detained in Iran since last year. Photo: Personal/TT

Researcher Ahmadreza Djalali has been detained since last April. He was arrested in Tehran for espionage and 'enmity with God' – a crime which in Iran can result in the death penalty – during a visit for a conference last year.

An Iranian citizen, the academic has a permanent residence permit in Sweden, where he conducted research in disaster medicine at the prestigious Karolinska Institute, and lived with his wife and two children. He previously worked at the University of Eastern piedmont in Italy, and the Italian government expressed “extreme concern” for his safety in February.

READ ALSO: 'Extreme concern' for academic held in Iran

Human rights organization Amnesty International has urged the authorities to release Djalali or give him a fair and secure trial.

“We hope he will be released. He has been in prison since April last year on extremely vague grounds,” Amnesty Sweden spokesperson Ami Hedenborg said.

“You have to ask yourself what it is really about. There is a great deal of concern over what may happen.”

READ ALSO: PM Löfven brings up human rights on Iran visit

Hedenborg added that it is impossible to speculate about what may happen, as the Iranian justice system is difficult to comprehend:

“Iran has an arbitrary legal system which doesn't comply with the international conditions for a fair trial. It could easily be cancelled or the sentence announced within two minutes”.

The trial was previously scheduled to start in early August, but was postponed when the judge took ill.

“We have asked to attend, but received a refusal,” Anne Torngren from Sweden’s Foreign Ministry told news agency TT.  The Swedish embassy has also applied for permission to visit Djalali.

The researcher's wife admits she is not optimistic about the trial.

“I can’t expect anything from my home country,” she said.

Djalali launched a hunger strike earlier this year, leading his family to become concerned about his health.

READ ALSO: Academic who faces death penalty 'refuses to eat or drink' 

IRAN

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews

An Iranian student planning on starting university in Sweden this autumn has told The Local he and many others risk being unable to take up their places after the Swedish embassy cancelled their visa interview appointments.

Foreign students risk losing Swedish university offers after embassies close for interviews
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer, fears he will not be able to start his course later this month. Photo: Private
Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer from Iran, is due to start an MSc in Innovation and Industrial Management at Gothenburg University later this month, but before he can come to Sweden, he first needs to have an in-person physical interview at the Swedish embassy in Tehran. 
 
But after applying for an interview on July 23rd, he was informed on July 26th that the embassy had cancelled all scheduled visa interviews, and was not currently taking new appointments. The embassy also announced the cancellation of all appointments in a statement on its web page
 
“Such a decision will prevent us from travelling to Sweden on time, we may lose our offer of admission, which will profoundly affect our academic future,” Amin Ansari, a project manager and and part-time lecturer told The Local. 
 
“Also, it is worthwhile to mention that we have spent a considerable amount of time and money up to this point, which will be lost thoroughly by this decision.” 
 
 
Ansari has formed a Whatsapp group with roughly 70 Iranians who had been hoping to study in Sweden.
 
The students complain that even though it is less than two weeks before their classes are scheduled to start, and only a matter of days before they reach their tuition fee reimbursement deadline, they have not yet managed to obtain any indication of when or if their interviews would be rescheduled.

 
Ansari said that he felt Iranian students were being unfairly singled out as “Swedish embassies in many other countries, regardless of the intense Covid-19 pandemic, are fully active”. 
 
He said he and other students had repeatedly contacted Sweden's Migration Agency, the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Swedish embassy in Tehran, and its ambassador, without getting any indication of when or if interviews might be possible.  
 
“We have been told that the embassy ruled this policy as an internal resolution,” he said. “But unfortunately all our efforts so far have not yielded any results.”
 

A screenshot of an email, seen by The Local, sent to Amin by the Swedish Embassy in Tehran.

 
When The Local contacted the Swedish foreign ministry, a press officer suggested instead contacting the Swedish Migration Agency, suggesting they were responsible for student visas. 
 
But in an email to Ansari, the Swedish Migration Agency, said that embassy interviews were in fact the responsibility of the foreign ministry and could not be influenced by the Migration Agency. 
 
“The coronavirus pandemic has compelled embassies in certain countries to take measures to protect their visitors and staff, such as delaying appointments, and this is not something which the Swedish Migration Agency is able to influence,” the agency told Ansari in an email. 
 
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm told The Local that it had “a number of overseas students prevented from getting to Sweden”. 
 
“In most cases, this means that the foreign authorities need to open up to implement the biometric part of the entry permit,” it said.
 
“For this reason, KTH has extended the possibility for non-Europeans to begin their studies until September 7th. However, they must come physically to Stockholm and KTH. No one is allowed to start their studies at a distance.” 

 
Iran is by far country in the Middle East worst-hit by coronavirus, with leaked figures sent to the BBC's Persian service by an anonymous source indicating that almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to July 20th – triple the official figure of 14,405 reported by the health ministry.
 
Since the start of June, the country has been hit by a severe second wave of the pandemic, with as many people dying in mid-July as during the country's first peak in March.
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