Prize recognises fight for academic freedom and connection with international academic community

 Scholars at Risk (SAR), an international organisation that protects the academic freedom of scientists and of which the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an active member, today presents the Courage to Think Award 2021 to Dr Ahmadreza Djalali. The award recognises individuals or organisations who have made a unique commitment to the protection of academics and the promotion of academic freedom, either in their work or through personal risk.

Dr Djalali, who has been held in an Iranian prison for more than five years and was sentenced to death in 2017, receives the award in recognition of his struggle for academic freedom and connection with the international academic community. 

He is a leading scholar in disaster medicine, having taught at Karolinska University in Sweden, the Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale in Italy and at VUB. When he visited Iran in April 2016 to participate in a series of workshops organised by universities in Tehran and Shiraz, authorities arrested him for “collaborating with hostile governments” and “endangering national security”. Dr Djalali has since been held in detention, including intermittently in isolation. He has been denied medical care and his health is deteriorating rapidly.

Fighting for release 

SAR calls on the Iranian authorities to lift the death sentence imposed on Dr Djalali and to allow his immediate release so he can receive the urgent medical care he needs. It also calls for action against the human rights violations associated with his arrest, detention and death sentence. “The continued imprisonment, extreme sentence, and mistreatment of Dr. Djalali in custody should be of grave concern for anyone who cares about the ability of scholars to work safely,” said Rob Quinn, executive director of SAR. “No scholar should face a death sentence, solitary confinement, and withholding of medical care for their academic or scientific work.” 

VUB rector Caroline Pauwels: “The Courage to Think Award for Dr Djalali is an important recognition. It shows that we have not forgotten him and that we will continue to work for his release. Indeed, Dr Djalali’s situation concerns scientists and society worldwide. He has been sentenced to death as unjust retribution for international scientific cooperation in his field of study. His wrongful prosecution and imprisonment, like the wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of other scientists and researchers, serve to undermine academic work and deprive everyone of the benefits of scientific research and exchange.”

Free to Think 2021 Symposium - 9 december - 14.00

SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, will take place today. Dr Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will receive the Courage to Think Award on his behalf. The event starts at 8.00 EST (14u CET) and is free; register here. SAR has also launched a campaign for Dr Djalali’s release.