Iranian Environmentalists Remain Detained Months After Arrests While Families Seek Answers
At Least 13 Environmentalists Have Been Detained in Iran Since January 2018
Seven environmentalists who were arrested in Tehran nearly two months ago remain in detention with no or extremely limited access to legal counsel while their families are being kept in the dark about any charges against them.
The detainees—Sam Rajabi, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz (also holds American citizenship), Amir-Hossein Khaleghi, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar and Sepideh Kashani—are former and current staff members of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF).
Its managing director, Iranian-Canadian sociologist Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in Evin Prison after he was arrested along with his PHWF colleagues in January 2018.
A source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 26, 2018, that at least six of the detainees were allowed to receive family visits in Evin Prison in Tehran between March 21-26 in the presence of security officials.
Rajabi, Khaleghi, Bayani and Tahbaz had visits for this first time on March 21. Kashani and Jowkar’s families visited them on March 26.
“We met for about 10 to 15 minutes in a clean and neat reception area,” Rajabi’s mother, Lili Houshmand Afshar, told CHRI on March 28. “Sam was very depressed. He hugged me so long that the supervising agent told him to let me sit down, just in case we might whisper words to each other. As far as I could tell, he looked physically healthy but anyone kept in solitary confinement for two months naturally loses his morale.”
Prior to that, all but one of the detainees had been denied family visits since their arrests on January 24.
The woman who was allowed one visit was only permitted to wave to her parents.
“Niloufar Bayani’s mother and father, who were called to [Evin] Prison to see their daughter, saw her for just a moment from a distance,” a source told CHRI on March 21. “Niloufar waved to them and left.”
“The detainees have only been permitted to make phone calls from time to time and only briefly talk about how they are,” added the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The authorities are not giving any answers to the families who have no one to turn to.”
CHRI has also learned that six other environmentalists arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been detained in the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas since late February 2018: Morteza Arianejad, Hassan Ragh, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Alireza Farhadzadeh and Aref and Hassan Zare (brothers).
Farhadzadeh, a documentary filmmaker best known for his film, “Rooz-e Yooz” (The Day of the Cheetah), has not been heard from since his arrest.
“Alireza’s situation is more worrisome than the others because there has been no news of him since his arrest,” a source with knowledge about the cases told CHRI. “He has not made even one phone call.”
The source also pointed out that members of Iran’s Parliament (MPs) who had expressed interest in the cases after Seyed-Emami’s death in Evin Prison on February 9 have since made conflicting statements to the detainees’ families.
“The detainees’ relatives went to the office of MP Mohammad Aref two weeks ago. After hearing their statements, Aref only said that he would look into the matter,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security purposes.
“[MP] Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh said they will get out of prison soon. [MP] Mohammad Kazemi told the families, ‘These people are spies; you just don’t know it,’” added the source.
Judicial authorities have extended the detention order for the seven detainees in Tehran until March 25.
The detainees, who were arrested on January 24 and 25 by the IRGC, have been accused of spying on Iran’s missile sites under the guise of environmental preservation activities. No evidence has been presented to support these allegations.
Seyed-Emami was 63 when he died in Evin Prison on February 9. The authorities claim he committed suicide but no autopsy report has been issued almost two months after his death. Calls by his family and UN officials for an independent investigation have gone unheeded in Iran.
Seyed-Emami’s two sons, Ramin and Mehran, left Iran for Canada on March 8, but their mother, Maryman Mombeini, was banned from boarding the plane with them.
The entire family holds Iranian and Canadian citizenship but Iran does not recognize dual nationality.
The Canadian government has demanded that Iran give Mombeini “the freedom to return home” as well as demanded “answers” from Iran on the “circumstances surrounding the death and detention of Seyed-Emami.”
*This story was updated on March 29, 2018, to reflect that at least six environmentalists were allowed family visits between March 21-26.