An academic jailed on suspicion of being a spy is being used by Iranian authorities as a warning to others who work abroad, his colleagues have claimed.
Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian national and disaster medicine scholar at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), 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.
It is believed the 45-year-old academic will now face the death penalty if he is found guilty of spying – a claim he has strenuously denied.
More than 224,000 people have now signed a petition demanding his release.
In a letter published in The Lancet, four of his colleagues from the Eastern Piedmont’s Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine, in Italy, where he also worked, said his detention was being used for political purposes.
“A spy he is not, but he has become a warning to other bright and talented Iranian students who study abroad that they are first always Iranians and must tote some invisible line, a line that we as global academics do not fully understand or appreciate,” wrote Francesco Della Corte, Frederick M Burkle Jr, Alba Ripoll Gallardo and Luca Ragazzoni in the letter published on 15 May.
The letter also praises Dr Djalali’s “brilliance” and explains how he is now “hovering near death in an Iranian jail”.
“The efforts of the international community in securing his release, as extensive as we can muster, seem increasingly ineffective, in great part due to the fact that all international petitions appear to have been ignored by the Iranian Government,” the letter says.
“Strong positions from the international community – ranging from Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the Swedish, Belgian and Italian governments, and multiple academic institutions worldwide – have fallen on deaf ears,” it adds.