Djalali was a resident of Sweden at the time of his arrest in April 2016, after he was invited back to his native Iran to speak at Tehran University about his experience as an expert in disaster medicine. As such, the newfound information is relevant to two familiar issues in Iran’s human rights record: the persecution of foreign and dual nationals, and the denial of access to medical care for prisoners, especially political prisoners.
In the previous two weeks, information has emerged about the arrests of three other dual nationals, all of them citizens or permanent residents of the United Nations. In March, Kingston University art student Arab Amiri was arrested and subjected to the vague charge of collusion against national security, although her case was only publicly acknowledged on Wednesday because her family had been threatened against speaking to the media. Then, in April, Abbas Edalat and Mahan Abedin were each arrested an accused of being members of a British infiltration network, despite the fact that Abedin is widely considered to espouse views favorable to the Iranian regime.
These incidents arguably represent the latest escalation in what a UN panel described in September as “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals.” More than 30 such individuals have been detained just since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations in 2015. The hardships suffered by many of those individuals, including Djalali, hint at what might lay in store for Amiri, Edalat, Abedin, and any other recent arrestees.
In February, Djalali carried out a three-week hunger strike to protest the lack of due process in his case and his mistreatment at the hands of interrogators and the Revolutionary Court judge, who threatened him with the death penalty even before he went to trial. Since that time, Djalali has been refused transfer to a hospital or access to other specialized medical care despite reports of worsening health problems.
This practice is frequently used by Iranian authorities to exert additional pressure on political prisoners, sometimes leading to forced confessions, though in this case it appears to simply be a form of arbitrary, extrajudicial punishment. Other methods were reportedly used in Djalali’s case to compel him to read a pre-written confession that was later broadcast via state media. These included threats against the lives of his family.
This too is a familiar practice in the Iranian judicial system, as evidenced by a report from Iran Human Rights Monitor which highlights the case of Maedeh Shabani-Nejad, a 15-year-old girl who has been detained and repeatedly interrogated since January of last year, when she was arrested at her uncle’s house by IRGC intelligence agents. The report identifies her as a poet and blogger and says that at least four of her relatives were arrested alongside her, “for helping and collaborating with her.”
The notion that Shabani-Nejad was arrested for her poetry is bolstered by a CHRI report that indicates the two-year prison sentence was recently upheld for Ali Mohammad Mohammadi, a former campaign manager for President Hassan Rouhani, on the basis of his having read a religious-themed satirical poem at a rally in April 2017.
Furthermore, while the tactics used by regime authorities against Djalali and Shabani-Nejad underscore the direct harm that those authorities might cause to prisoners’ loved ones, other stories highlight the collateral damage that might be incurred from mistreatment of the prisoner alone. Iran Human Rights Monitor reported on Thursday that 25-year-old Nishtman Hossein Panahi committed suicide two days earlier after she was informed that her uncle Ramin Hossein Panahi had been taken to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution.
That execution was scheduled to take place on Thursday at dawn, though it was not immediately clear whether it had been carried out. Panahi’s case had been the subject of multiple statements by United Nations experts, on account of credible reports that he had been denied due process and had been tortured and forced to confess membership in an armed Kurdish separatist group.