'We will keep the message alive': Students call for release of scholar imprisoned in Iran after execution date set

The UBC Human Rights Collective (HRC) and the UBC student chapter of Scholars at Risk (SAR) are calling for students to support an imprisoned scholar as Iran moves to execute him.

Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali — a Swedish-Iranian disaster medicine doctor and researcher — was arrested in Iran in 2016 while attending disaster medicine workshops with the University of Tehran and Shiraz University. He was later sentenced to death for allegedly collaborating with the Israeli government.

In November 2020, Iran scheduled Djalali’s execution for early December of the same year, but later granted a reprieve. The UBC student chapter of SAR was involved in advocacy against this set execution date.

On May 4, 2022, a news agencies reported that Iran was taking steps to execute Djalali by May 21.

In response to this announcement, UBC HRC and UBC student chapter of SAR are asking people to sign and share a letter of appeal from the larger SAR network, as well as contact the Iranian diplomatic mission in peoples’ home country.

In the letter — which is addressed to the president of Iran, the prime minister of Sweden and other world leaders — SAR Executive Director Robert Quinn said Iran’s treatment of Djalali constitutes a “flagrant disregard for international standards of academic freedom, due process, fair trial, and humane treatment of prisoners.”

“[Djalali’s] life must be saved. He must be released. I therefore respectfully urge you to do everything in your power to halt the execution and secure Dr. Djalali’s release and his safe return to his wife and two children in Sweden,” Quinn wrote.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has also called for Djalali's immediate release in the past.

On May 20, the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights released a statement calling the charges against Djalali unjust and expressing its solidarity with groups pushing for his release.

Dr Jenny Peterson, an associate professor of teaching in the department of political science, included Djalali’s case in a 400-level seminar this past semester where students work on ongoing global human rights cases.

“Dr. Djalali’s case was chosen [for my class] because of the urgency,” Peterson said.

Three of the students who worked on Djalali’s case — Trinity Holeksa, Wam Kinuthia and Melanie Law — said they were drawn to the case due to the urgency around it and the creative forms of advocacy it required.

Over the past term, the students and the rest of their group wrote human rights reports for the broader SAR organization and the federal government’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights. Following the latest announcement around Djalali’s execution, the group posted on social media and created a video campaign to raise awareness.

Holeksa, Kinuthia and Law all stressed the importance of spreading the word around Djalali’s story and collective action.

“For Canadian students, especially if they show support and to let their government know that we as Canadians support Dr. Djalali, then it's something that Canada has to be involved in,” said Kinuthia.

“We do have a voice even though it seems like, in terms of structure, we're just lowly students or whatnot,” added Law. “Banding together is important. And I think a lot of human rights advocacy focuses on that.”

Holeksa also said that it was important to keep Djalali’s legacy alive, no matter what happens after May 21.

“It's a signal to countries such as Iran who deal in human rights violations that no matter what you do we will keep the message alive and we will keep you accountable.”

This article was updated on May 20 at 4:15 p.m. to include a statement from the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights.