Explainer: Who is the Swedish doctor facing death penalty in Iran?

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Vida Mehrania is trying to save her husband’s life. Iran will execute him in nine days – May 21.

Near Iran, Ahmed Reza Jalali, 50, is an Israeli spy. To his colleagues, he is a respected physician who specializes in disaster treatment, one of the most sought after fields. He is a dear husband to Mehrania.

“It’s a nightmare,” he told the Associated Press from Stockholm, where he lives with his 10-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter who have not seen their father in six years since his arrest. “They want to sacrifice my husband.”

Mehrania pinned Jalali’s fading hopes on Swedish citizenship and Stockholm’s efforts to press for his release. The scope of the effort is unclear, although the Swedish foreign minister called his Iranian counterpart last week and, along with the European Union, opposed the death penalty and demanded that Jalali be released.

But it turns out that Jalali’s relationship with Sweden has taken him to Iranian prisons.

In Iran, analysts say, some foreigners are caught up in Tehran’s internal political rivalries and tensions between Tehran and the western capitals. A pattern of Western takeover has become increasingly apparent since Iran’s nuclear deal with the world power broke down.

On Wednesday, Iran said it had detained two unidentified Europeans just hours after a European Union envoy landed in the capital in a last-ditch effort to save a shattered nuclear deal.

Iran has detained at least a dozen dual nationals in recent years. Most of them have been arrested on suspicion of spying for the United States.

Here the focus is on power in Jalali’s case.

Jalali was born in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz. She has had successful careers in Italy and Sweden, published more than 40 articles in medical journals and taught across the continent. When an Iranian university invited him to a workshop in April 2016, he did not think twice about joining.

He never saw his family again.

Security forces detained him, charged him with leaking details of Iranian nuclear scientists killed by Mossad, and took him to Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where he was executed.

Meanwhile, a groundbreaking search in Sweden for an ex-Iranian official accused of atrocities has sparked outrage in Tehran.

The two incidents matched uncomfortably. Hamid Nouri is facing trial in Stockholm for war crimes and murder during the Iran-Iraq war – a conflict that ended more than a quarter of a century ago and still haunts Tehran today.

What is happening between Iran and Sweden?

For the first time, a number of Iranian survivors of the genocide at the end of the Iran-Iraq war have taken a stand in Swedish court.

Iran has denied any connection between the controversial trial and Jalali’s execution – last week the Swedish court’s proceedings were declared imminent due to its international headlines. On Tuesday, Iranian judiciary spokesman Jalali announced the final verdict. His family believes the cases are involved.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, made the allegations in 1988 after accepting a UN-brokered ceasefire. Members of the Iranian opposition Mujahideen-e-Khalaq, heavily armed by Saddam Hussein, crossed the Iranian border from Iraq in a surprise attack. Iran has thwarted their attacks.

At the time the political prisoners’ fraud trial began, the defendants were asked to identify themselves. According to a 1990 report by Amnesty International, those who responded to “Mujahideen” were sent to their deaths. International rights groups estimate that about 5,000 people were executed.

Iran wants to bury this dark chapter of history. But now sensitive memories are being brought to light. The former detainees told a Swedish court that Nouri, a former Iranian judiciary official, had carried out the executions, taken the convicts to the chambers where their executions took place, and assisted prosecutors in collecting the names of those sympathetic to the mujahideen. Nuri denies involvement.

The verdict is expected in July and, if found guilty, could result in the life sentence of 61-year-old Nuri. The case was reflected in Tehran, where Ibrahim Raisi, a radical former judiciary chief, served on commissions that issued death sentences.

Iran, outraged, has condemned the act as “an unjust and illegal show trial.”

Sweden’s foreign ministry confirmed last week that Iranian authorities had since detained another Swedish national, a tourist traveling in the country.

Why Iran Detains Foreigners?

Four decades ago, young Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. They were released in 1981, but Iran’s hostage-taking policy has never ended, analysts say.

“It’s ebb and flow, but it’s been an infamous page in the Islamic Republic’s playbook since 1979,” said Ray Takih, an expert on Iran’s Council on Foreign Relations. “Iran usually detains foreign nationals as a means of gaining or receiving something from another country.”

The strategy has spread in the public eye due to the exchange of prisoners. In 2016, when Tehran’s nuclear deal with the world powers came into force, four American prisoners flew home from Iran. On the same day, the Obama administration airlifted ইর 400 million in cash to Iran.

Recently this spring, two British nationals who had been imprisoned in Iran for more than five years returned to the country after the United Kingdom settled a decade-old debt to Iran.

At least four Americans, two Germans, two Austrians and two French nationals have been detained in Iran today.

A UN panel described their imprisonment as part of “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberties of dual citizens”.

What is the history of Iran executing prisoners?

Iran is one of the top executors in the world. In March, the UN special rapporteur on Iran told the Human Rights Council that the number of executions in Iran had risen to 280 last year, including at least three minors.

However, the death penalty for foreigners is very rare. Iran has not publicly executed any foreigner in the last two decades.

In recent years, dual nationals facing the death penalty, such as Iranian-Canadian Hamid Ghasemi or Iranian-American Amir Hekmati, have had their sentences reduced.

Last year, UN rights experts warned that Jalali was facing dire conditions and was “close to death” as his health deteriorated rapidly in solitary confinement. His conviction, the UN says, stemmed from a confession taken under torture after an unjust trial.

Deprived of sleep under bright light, he waits for the day when he will be killed.

It’s a terror his family says they share, even 3,000 miles away.

“It simply came to our notice then. … It has completely taken our lives, ”said Mehrania. “For the politics of other countries, we are suffering.”

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