These activists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation were arrested in January, along with at least four other people, and accused of espionage, something that international human rights campaigners and Iran’s own government say there is no evidence for. Thus, the Iranian Regime changed the charges to “corruption on earth”, which is punishable by execution.
UN Environment head, Erik Solheim, said that the UN is deeply troubled by these cases and that the latest development gives them “even greater cause for alarm”.
The five environmentalists are Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Morad Tahbaz, Sepideh Kashani and Niloufar Bayani. Tahbaz, who is Iranian-American, is CEO of the PWHF, while Bayani who has worked with the UN, only returned to Iran last June to join the group.
One source familiar with the Iranian Regime said that its intelligence apparatus is suspicious of NGOs, especially those with dual nationals involved, because it sees them as threats to the status quo of the Regime.
Meanwhile, Iran is plagued by environmental challenges, including water shortages and air pollution, which have been triggers for the nationwide protests in Iran that sprang up in December, but the people most equipped to help are being jailed by the mullahs.
In January, the Revolutionary Guards Corps arrested at least nine members of the PWHF, one of whom has already died in jail. Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, a celebrated Canadian-Iranian environmentalist, died in February and the Regime claimed it was suicide, but many disagree.
The Regime accused Seyed-Emami of being a CIA-Mossad agent and claimed that the PWHF had used surveys of endangered Asiatic cheetahs as a cover for spying on missile test sites. However, they produced no evidence for that.
The source said: “After the death in custody of Seyed-Emami, the Revolutionary Guards went on defensive and to extremes to prove that something was wrong, especially when the government is saying they haven’t done anything wrong.”
Solheim explained that the UN was kept in the dark about Seyed-Emami’s death and the new charges against the environmentalists.
He said: “This sends an extremely ominous message to Iran’s environmentalist community.”
The Regime also arrested Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s environmental protection organisation, and held him for 72 hours. Following his release, he fled the county.
The three other environmentalists who were not charged with corruption on earth, but whose fate is still unknown are Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.