Environmentalists Detained in Iran Denied Legal Counsel Weeks After Arrests
Some Detainees Allowed Brief Contact With Their Families
Environmental activists who were detained at the same time as Kavous Seyed-Emami—who recently died in custody—are being denied access to legal counsel, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
“We are simple, ordinary people. We are not political. But unfortunately, the authorities are not letting lawyers get involved,” a source who requested anonymity for fear of state reprisals for speaking to the media told CHRI on February 14, 2018.
“Some of the families have retained lawyers but when the lawyers ask questions, no one gives answers and won’t allow them to enter the case,” added the source.
While the right to counsel is ostensibly protected under Article 35 of Iran’s Constitution, the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedure Regulations states: “If a person is held in custody on suspicion of committing … a crime against the internal or external security of the country… he shall not meet a lawyer for a week from the time of his arrest.”
The detainees have been held for four weeks since their arrests on January 24 and 25, 2018, without full access to counsel.
Six of the detainees were allowed to briefly contact their families on February 14, 2018.
“They called and they all said the same thing, they are well and there is no need to worry,” said the source who spoke with CHRI. “This has been their first contact, except for a couple of them who called their families a few days after their arrest.”
Continued the source: “At least now we know they are alive and well, so they say. But we don’t know what kind of condition they are in and where they are being held. It’s not fair for the families to be unaware of what’s happening to their children and being prohibited from speaking a few words with them. Any accused person has the right to have a lawyer and be in contact with their family.”
Many of the detained worked for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF), which Seyed-Emami co-managed.
“All he said was, ‘I’m well, don’t be worried,’” Lili Houshmand Afshar, the mother of detainee Sam Rajabi, told CHRI on February 15.
The total number of current and former PHWF staff members arrested on January 24 and 25 is not known, but in addition to Rajabi, so far seven names have been mentioned by Iranian state media: Amir-Hossein Khaleghi, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar and his wife Sepideh Kashani.
In addition to Rajabi, the following detainees made contact with their families: Houman Jowkar, the PHWF director in charge of protecting the endangered Asian cheetah and his wife Sepideh Kashani, a former UN environmental adviser; Taher Ghadirian, who was associated with UNESCO’s “Man and the Biosphere Program;” and wildlife conservationists Amir-Hosseini Khaleghi and Niloufar Bayani.
But no contact has been by Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American member of the PHWF’s board of directors.
On February 9, Seyed-Emami’s wife was called to a court in Tehran and “interrogated and threatened” for three hours before she was informed of his death, according to a statement by their son.
The authorities claim Seyed-Emami, a 63-year-old Iranian-Canadian professor and environmentalist, committed suicide in his cell but a video recording of his last hours alive does not show the moment of his death.
Without providing evidence, on February 13 Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi accused Seyed-Emami and the other detained environmentalists of espionage.
“On January 9, 2018, based on a report by one of the security organizations sent to the Shahid Moghaddas Court… it was determined that the suspects were directed by CIA and Mossad intelligence officers to carry out a three-pronged mission in environmental issues, penetration into Iran’s scientific community and gathering information from sensitive and vital places in the country, including missile bases,” he said.
He continued: “The investigations show that some of the suspects traveled to the Occupied Territories [Israel] on several occasions, including to participate in a MENARID conference with attending Mossad intelligence agents, and confessed that the general objective of the joint CIA-Mossad project was to create crises in certain environmental areas in Iran and send collected information through secret agents to the US.”
Dowlatabadi provided no evidence for the accusations but specifically pointed at the detainees who have dual citizenship.
Seyed-Emami’s family attorney told CHRI that Dowlatabadi broke the law by making unsubstantiated accusations to the press about the case, which has not gone to trial.
“The prosecutor’s statements are in violation of the law,” said Payam Dorafshan on February 13. “The accused should go to court and face charges in a trial before a ruling is made. The law prohibits anyone from accusing people of committing crimes.”
The family source that spoke to CHRI said they have not been formally informed of any charges.
“No one has told the families what these people are exactly accused of. We only read things in the media and have no other information. The families are certain that their children have done nothing wrong and committed no crime. These accusations have no basis in facts,” said the source.
According to another source close to the families, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested the environmentalists and they’re being held in Ward 2-A in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
“The families of the detainees continue to be harassed against giving any interviews or information to the media and have been warned that it would hurt their children’s case if they do so,” added the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
On February 12, a video was posted on the Twitter account of Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE)—who had been arrested around the same time at the environmentalists—saying he had returned to work.
But on February 13, BBC reporter Mehdi Parpanchi said he had been informed that Madani recorded the video in his office in the presence of security agents who then returned him to custody.