A United Nations agency joins numerous environmental groups around the world, including National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund, in calling on the Iranian regime to ensure a fair trial for eight wildlife conservationists facing charges in Iran’s secretive revolutionary courts.

The eight were arrested for “national security crimes” in 2018 while trying to raise public awareness about Iran’s environment and endangered species such as the Asiatic cheetah (now fewer than 50 left in Iran) and the Persian leopard. Some even face the death penalty.

Since then they have been held largely incommunicado, subjected to prolonged periods of solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They have limited access to legal representation.

“Information we have recently received that some detainees may not have adequate access to legal counsel and representation is deeply troubling,” the U.N. Environment Program said. 

“It is hard to fathom how working to preserve the Iranian flora and fauna can possibly be linked to conducting espionage against Iranian interests,” said U.N. human rights experts following the arrest of the conservationists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation in February 2018. “The detention and punishment of environmentalists for their work to conserve and protect the natural environment cannot be justified,” the experts said.

The eight are colleagues of Kavous Seyed-Emami, director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation who was arrested for “espionage” in January 2018. Emami died 17 days after his arrest under suspicious circumstances while under interrogation in Evin Prison.

“Not only was he arrested on flimsy charges, but his death in custody strongly suggests foul play,” said the U.N. experts following his death. Even numerous senior officials of the Iranian government have stated they have found no evidence suggesting the activists are spies.

Why jail wildlife experts?

Urial herd standing on rocks (© Nature Picture Library/Alamy)
Urials, an endangered subspecies of wild sheep, standing on rocks in Khar Turan National Park, Semnan Province, Iran. (© Nature Picture Library/Alamy)

Iranian authorities arrest environmental workers on trumped-up charges because often they are trying to protect lands used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for missile testing or to build dams for their commercial interests.

The eight currently being held are Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi, and Morad Tahbaz.

“We know how much Iranians treasure their natural heritage, and we call on the government to protect the rights of all dedicated servants of the country’s unique environment, which are guaranteed by Iran’s laws and constitution,” stated U.N. Environment.