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Ahmadreza Djalali (left) poses with his wife, Vida Mehrannia.

The family of a Swedish-Iranian researcher whose death sentence for espionage was upheld this week by Iranian authorities has dismissed the charges against him, saying his purported confession was "distorted" and that he was not in a position to gain access to the state secrets he is accused of divulging.

Ahmadreza Djalali, a permanent resident of Sweden who specializes in emergency medicine, was arrested in April while in Iran on business and later sentenced to death for spying for Israel.

Iranian authorities claim that Djalali delivered information on Iran's nuclear and defense plans and personnel to Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, leading to the assassination of at least two nuclear scientists. The authorities also alleged that Djalali and his family received Swedish residency in exchange for cooperation with Mossad.

But after Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced on December 25 that Djalali's death sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court, the 46-year-old researcher's relatives decried the decision.

In an open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, a copy of which was e-mailed to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Djalali's mother, Najibeh Mortazavi, said that her son was innocent.

"Accusing someone like him, with his work and academic background who is committed to his country ... of ties to the Zionist regime and playing a role in the assassination of martyred nuclear [scientists] in exchange for money and residency in Sweden seems to be very unfair," Mortazavi, who resides in Iran, wrote in the December 26 letter.

Dolatabadi claimed that Djalali had provided Mossad agents with the names of senior employees of Iran's Nuclear Energy Organization. "The information delivered by [Djalali] includes complete data about 30 prominent members of Iran's military, defense, and nuclear projects, including martyrs Ali Mohammadi and [Majid] Shahriari," he said.

Mohammadi, a nuclear physicist, was assassinated in January 2010 while on his way to work. Shahriari, a nuclear engineer, was killed in November 2010 when a motorcyclist attached a bomb to his car. The assassinations came as Iran's nuclear research was under intense scrutiny, and amid accusations that Tehran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

State-controlled television broadcast a purported confession on December 17 in which Djalali admitted to supplying information to a foreign intelligence services about Iranian nuclear scientists who were later assassinated. But Djalali had previously denied the charges against him, and following the broadcast audio emerged in which he said he gave the confession under psychological pressure.

Djalali's mother wrote that her son "has rejected all the charges against him in court by providing credible documents. My son has never had access to the top establishment's secrets," she added.

Dolatabadi, who said he had met with Djalali in prison, claimed that the researcher had confessed to meeting eight times with agents of a "foreign spy agency" and receiving money, statements that concurred with his disputed televised confession.

But in a December 26 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Djalali's wife, Vida Mehrannia, said that the prosecutor had "distorted" her husband's comments.

"[Djalali] had said that these elements had corresponded with him eight times and that his response had been negative," said Mehrannia, who lives in Stockholm with the couple's two children.

She also said that the couple had received Swedish residency permit in order to study. "I've said it a number of times that we received a residency permit for study. All of the documents are available at Sweden's Migration Agency," Djalali's wife said.

Amnesty International said on December 12 that Djalali's lawyers had said that the court relied primarily on evidence obtained under duress and produced no evidence to substantiate the allegation that he was anything other than an academic peacefully pursuing his profession. The London-based rights group has called on Iran to quash Djalali's death sentence.

An online petition calling for the release of Djalali has gathered more than 270,000 signatures.

Iran is one of the world's most prolific practitioners of capital punishment, executing at least 567 people in 2016, according to Amnesty International. Most of the executions are carried out in relation to drug-related charges. International rights groups have condemned Djalali's arrest, saying it followed a pattern of Iran detaining dual nationals and expatriates without due process.

Written by Golnaz Esfandiari, with contributions by RFE/RL's Radio Farda broadcaster Farhang Ghavimi

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who has been barred from challenging President Vladimir Putin in a March election, is calling for a "voters' strike" and nationwide demonstrations on January 28 in support of a boycott of the ballot.

Navalny's December 27 call set up a potential showdown on the streets weeks before the March 18 election, which he dismissed as the "reappointment" of Putin to a new six-year term.

"It's a simple thing: Either we fight for our country or we give it up to these talentless swindlers without a fight," he said in a video posted on his website.

In a written statement in the same post, Navalny said it was "clear that Putin and the Kremlin need [high] turnout" to put a veneer of legitimacy on the vote and hand Putin a powerful mandate for what could be his last term.

He accused other would-be candidates of helping Putin and serving their own interests at the expense of the people.

Reiterating his call for a boycott, Navalny urged Russians to stay away from the polls on March 18 and to try with "all their might" to persuade those around them not to vote.

"We refuse to call Putin's reappointment an election," Navalny wrote, adding that "on January 28 we will hold a [nationwide] action in support of the voters' strike."

"We do not want to wait another six years. We want competitive elections right now," he wrote.

Navalny posted the statement the same day that Putin submitted signatures supporting his reelection bid to the Central Election Commission.

The commission ruled on December 25 that Navalny cannot run because of a financial-crime conviction that the anticorruption activist contends was engineered by the Kremlin to punish him for his opposition activities and keep him out of elections.

Navalny responded to the decision by calling for a boycott of the vote, and Putin's spokesman said on December 26 that boycott calls should be "studied" to determine whether they violate the law.

In the new statement, Navalny said supporters would organize monitoring efforts aimed to ensure that the authorities do not "falsify turnout."

The statement included a list of dozens of cities where demonstrations would be held on January 28.

Attacking The Kremlin

Navalny, 41, who has been jailed three times his year in connection with protests that officials have deemed illegal, said that he and his allies would submit documents soon in a bid to secure permission for the rallies.

But if it is denied, he said he and supporters will demonstrate anyway, and called on people supporting the boycott to act "peacefully but firmly."

A vocal Kremlin critic whose reports have alleged corruption among senior Putin associates, Navalny has been convicted on criminal charges in two cases he says were fabricated for political reasons.

He says that he rattled the Kremlin when he came in a strong second in a Moscow mayoral election in 2013, shortly after his initial conviction on a charge that he defrauded the budget of the Kirov region of some $270,000 through timber-sales machinations.

Navalny announced his presidential bid in December 2016 and has been campaigning since then, facing hurdles ranging from bureaucratic hindrances to pressure on supporters and physical attacks.

He pressed ahead after the election commission said in June that he was ineligible to run due to the conviction -- which was repeated in a retrial after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the state had violated his right to a fair trial.

The commission's December 25 ruling formally barring Navalny from the ballot came a day after backers in 20 Russian cities held gatherings to nominate him.

Putin, 65, has been president or prime minister since 1999. If he is elected in March -- a foregone conclusion given his high approval ratings and the Kremlin's control over the levers of power -- he would be barred from running for a third straight term in 2018.

Putin and his allies say he brought stability to Russia in the wake of an economic crisis in the late 1990s and two devastating wars against separatists in the Chechnya region from 1994 to the early 2000s.

Critics say the former KGB officer has stifled dissent, rolled back advances in democracy and human rights that were made after the 1991 Soviet collapse, and isolated Russia by stoking confrontation with neighbors, Washington, and the West.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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