The family of jailed Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali were facing an anxious wait on Thursday after Iran prepared him for execution in an apparent crude effort to pressurise the Belgian government on the eve of the Paris bomb plot trial verdict.
Mr Djalali – who has a guest professorship at a Brussels university – was sentenced to death in 2017 but was moved to another jail just before the Antwerp trial in apparent preparation for his execution.
For more than two months since, he has been cut off from family and lawyers and been held in a tiny windowless cell with just a few blankets on which to lie on a dirty, bug-infested floor, according to rights group Amnesty International.
The group produced a video appeal for his freedom on Wednesday, featuring the words: “How does it feel to live in fear that any day could be your last? Ahmadreza Djalali knows how that feels.”
Supporters of Mr Djalali believe that the Iranian regime is prepared to make an example of him after the sentencing of one of its most senior spymasters in Europe. Assadollah Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in jail after a pan-European police operation, which included France and Germany, raised concerns that dual citizens from those countries could also suffer reprisals.
“The difference is that the cases of dual nationals take place in the dark corners of the Iranian revolutionary court system,” said Jasmin Ramsey, of the US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran. “Sometimes ... they are brought into court blindfolded.
“It’s so important that countries with any leverage with Iran, or have commercial relationships, that they take a united stand to say this is unacceptable.”
The European Union and the Swedish government raised awareness of Mr Djalali's case in an effort to secure his freedom after nearly five years in detention.
Mr Djalali, 50, formerly based in Stockholm where he worked at the Karolinska medical institute, was arrested during a visit to Iran in April 2016.
He was sentenced to death 18 months later after being found guilty of passing information about two Iranian nuclear scientists to Israel's Mossad intelligence agency that led to their assassinations.
Mr Djalali, an expert in disaster medicine, says he is being punished for refusing to spy for Iran while working in Europe. He was granted Swedish citizenship in February 2018 while in prison.
The daughter of Nahid Taghavi, 66, a retired German architect who has been held since October last year, said that the arrest of Assadi in Germany had been identified as a possible reason why her mother was detained.
However, Iran has not publicly given a reason for the detention and the German government has not been able to tell the family the reason.
Assadi and three accomplices were sentenced to jail by a court in Antwerp, Belgium on Thursday. They were involved in a bungled plot to bomb a National Council of Resistance of Iran rally on the outskirts of Paris in June 2018.