Desperate Families Call on Iranian State Heads to Release Detained Environmentalists
Detainees Held For Six Months Without Access to Counsel
The families of environmentalists who have been detained in Iran for the past six months—many in solitary confinement and without counsel—have sent a letter to the three heads of state advocating for the detainees’ release.
“It has been six months since the arrests of our loved ones who are known as some of the best and most respected environmentalists in Iran. These six months have been full of hardship, apprehension and anxiety for them and us. Six months without the liberty to make phone calls or have visitations. In these six months, tens of environmentalists have been detained and eight of them are still without access to lawyers in Ward 2-A of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization in Evin Prison in small cells with a few other inmates.”
The letter addressed President Hassan Rouhani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, and Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani and was published in full by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on July 31, 2018,
“The families and relatives of the detained environmentalists urge the respected heads of branches of state to use their high authority in matters of national security and crisis management to devise a wise plan to free these young patriots and rid them of false and painful accusations of espionage,” added the letter.
Dozens of environmentalists have been arrested throughout Iran since January 2018 by the IRGC. According to the opposition news site Kalame, the environmentalists were targeted by the IRGC for opposing the installation of missile sites on protected lands.
Iranian Canadian academic and environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami died under suspicious circumstances in Iran’s Evin Prison in February 2018 after being arrested by the IRGC the previous month. Several of his colleagues at the Tehran-based Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF), where Seyed-Emami worked as managing director, remain detained since being arrested in January.
The families noted in their letter that the detentions were continuing even though “the president’s special fact-finding committee, the intelligence minister and the head of the Department of Environment have officially declared that the accusations of espionage against the detainees are incorrect and called for their freedom.”
The families who signed the letter are related to the first group of environmentalists who were arrested in January 2018 along with the now-deceased Seyed-Emami—all current and former staff members of PHWF.
The PHWF detainees include Sam Rajabi, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz (also holds American citizenship), Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
Dozens of other environmentalists have also been arrested in other parts of the country including the southern Iranian harbor city of Bandar Lengeh and surrounding towns Lavaredin, Janah and Bastak in Hormozgan Province.
In May 2018, the head of the Department of Environment, vice president Isa Kalantari, rejected accusations that the environmentalists were spies by referencing the Intelligence Ministry’s conclusions.
“It has been determined that these individuals were detained without doing anything,” Kalantari said. “The Intelligence Ministry has concluded that there is no evidence that these individuals were spies.”
“The government’s fact-finding committee has concluded that the detained activists should be released because there’s no evidence to prove the accusations leveled against these individuals,” he added.
The Kalame website reported that the environmentalists were accused of being spies because they had spoken out against the IRGCs’ plans to develop missile sites on environmentally sensitive land.
“Kalame has received information that the environmental activists are not spies but in fact had resisted the IRGC’s excessive demands to encroach on environmentally protected regions for the installation of missile sites,” the opposition news site reported on April 16.
The report continued: “Although these regions were registered in the United Nations as protected areas, the IRGC thought it could build military sites there without any problem, thus it went ahead with installing missile silos and equipment. The move met opposition from environmental groups that repeatedly asked the IRGC to evacuate. The groups made it clear that the IRGC was endangering their activities to collect information and take photos of animals and plants for the UN. But the IRGC did not agree and asked these groups to instead submit old photos in their annual reports to the UN. The conflict between the two sides went on for years and eventually the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization used espionage as an excuse to arrest the environmentalists so that it could continue its activities in the protected regions without any problem.”