In a March 5 statement, ahead of the soon-to-be-announced verdict in the case, Amnesty wrote about how the scientists were tortured and put in prolonged solitary confinement in order to force them into giving ‘confessions’.
The eight environmentalists, all members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, were arrested in January and February 2018 on charges of spying and were put on trial in a Revolutionary Court in Tehran in January this year.
The scientists are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
The Iranian Parliament and Intelligence Ministry have found no evidence of spying, indeed, the scientists were monitoring and conducting research into Iran’s endangered animals, including the Asiatic cheetah and Persian leopard, with full permission of the Iranian Regime, but that has not garnered the release of the eco-activists.
Four of them are charged with “sowing corruption on Earth”, a crime that can result in the death penalty, three are still charged with espionage, and one has been charged with “cooperating with hostile states” against Iran and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”. The latter four could face up to 11 years in prison.
Philip Luther, the Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International, said: “Protecting endangered wildlife is not a crime. These conservationists are scientists who were carrying out legitimate research. It is absurd that they have been prosecuted without any evidence and are being treated as criminals.”
He continued: “Iran’s authorities should release them immediately and unconditionally and drop the outrageous espionage-related charges against them.”
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards accused the conservationists of collecting classified military information via tracking cameras, which are standard tools used to monitor rare and endangered species that don’t engage with humans.
Amnesty is not the only group calling out these accusations, with Human Rights Watch labelling the charges “ridiculous” in October.
The managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Kavous Seyed Emami, was arrested alongside his colleagues last January, but he died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
Authorities claim that the 63-year-old Iranian-Canadian sociology professor committed suicide, but his family and friends raised their doubts. Since then, Iran has not allowed Emami’s wife, also a dual national, to leave the country.