The eight members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation arrested in January and February 2018 – Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdoreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz – appeared in court on January 30, 2019. There they learnt that at least the first half of their 300-page indictment is based entirely on a “confession” extracted under torture from Bayani, who immediately told the judge that she had since retracted the confession.
During the second court session on February 2, she said: “If you were being threatened with a needle of hallucinogenic drugs [hovering] above your arm, you would also confess to whatever they wanted you to confess.”
But that is not all. The defendants were also restricted from choosing their own lawyers and forced to pick from a list pre-approved by the judiciary, while Rajabi’s lawyer was not even allowed to attend the court session.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The gravity of due process violations against these activists over the past year, and the recent allegation of torture and forced confessions, has reinforced the reality that the judiciary is a tool of repression and a symbol of injustice.”
He continued: “The highest-ranking authorities should immediately investigate this allegation of torture, immediately call for the release of these activists, and end the grave abuses against them.”
All of the defendants bar Kouhpayeh were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization on January 24 or 25, 2018, alongside the group’s leader, Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyed Emami. Seyed Emami later died under suspicious circumstances in prison. Authorities claimed it was suicide, but refused to conduct an impartial investigation and have banned his wife from leaving the country.
Kouhpayeh was arrested on February 25.
In October, following an admission by the Iranian government that they could not find any evidence of spying, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi charged four of the environmentalists with “sowing corruption on earth”, a crime that carries the death penalty, claiming that they sought “proximity to military sites” under the guise on environmental projects. It’s worth noting here that the environmentalists have received permission from the Regime to monitor the endangered Asiatic cheetah in those locations.
Three of the remaining environmentalists are charged with spying and one person is charged with assembly and collusion against national security; a vague charge often used by the Regime when they have no crime to charge a person with.
Last month, labour rights activists Ismael Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian also reported being tortured while they were detained late last year, which resulted in the Regime airing their forced “confessions” on TV and arrested them both again.
Page said: “If President [Hassan] Rouhani wants anyone to believe he does not agree that detainees are being routinely tortured in Iran, now is the time to act. The president should directly intervene as the head of the national security council, and order a transparent investigation.”
Of course, the reality is that there will be no independent investigation, because even if Rouhani was any different to the rest of the mullahs, he simply doesn’t pull the strings. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei does.