A jailed Iranian scientist is refusing food and water after he was barred from having his own lawyer.
Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian national and disaster medicine scholar at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), has gone on thirst strike after his choice of attorney was rejected by state authorities in Iran.
It is believed the 45-year-old academic will be appointed a state attorney when he faces charges of spying. If found guilty, he is likely to face the death penalty, he was informed at a court hearing in January.
More than 224,000 people have now signed a petition demanding the release of Dr Djalali, who was arrested in April 2016 while visiting the University of Tehran and Shiraz University, where he had been invited to attend a workshop on disaster medicine.
In December 2016, Iranian authorities reportedly put Dr Djalali under intense pressure to sign a statement confessing to be a spy for a “hostile government", his supporters say.
When he refused to sign, they indicated he would be charged with “enmity against God” (moharebeh), which carries the death penalty.
In protest, Dr Djalali began a hunger strike on 26 December and started refusing fluids on 24 February.
He has now lost 27kg and weighs just 55kg, according to the @Free_Ahmadreza Twitter account and #SaveAhmad hashtag started by his supporters.
Writing in a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran, the New York-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) expressed its “deep concern over the imprisonment of Dr Ahmadreza Djalali on false charges”.
In the letter from its chairman of directors Kerry J. Sulkowicz, dated 1 March, the organisation said it is “gravely concerned that his health has deteriorated” since his hunger strike began, “putting his life at grave risk”.
“I respectfully implore you to ensure Dr Djalali’s immediate release unless he is charged with a recognizable criminal offense, in line with international law and standards,” said Dr Sulkowicz.
“We are concerned that he appears to have been targeted for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly,” he added.
PHR also noted that Dr Djalali has the right under Iranian law to have the lawyer of his choice represent him and that authorities “ensure he has access to his family, including communication with his wife in Sweden”.
“As the Persian New Year approaches, my colleagues and I ask you to honour the tradition of mercy and compassion at the time of Nowruz, and release Dr Djalali from detention so that he can continue his humanitarian work and be reunited with his family,” Dr Sulkowicz added.