Families of Iran’s Detained Environmentalists Urge Supreme Leader to Release Their Loved Ones
The families of environmentalists who have been detained for nearly eight months in Iran on unsubstantiated accusations of espionage have sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for the detainees to be released.
“We beseech you to immediately order the release of our loved ones and pave the way for a fair judicial process with access to legal counsel,” said the letter, a copy of which was sent to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on September 18, 2018.
“We are wholeheartedly certain that our children have not committed the slightest wrongdoing, let alone the terrible crimes they have been accused of,” said the families.
Eight former and current staff members of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF) have been detained in Iran’s Evin Prison since being arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since late January 2018: Sam Rajabi, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz (also holds American citizenship), Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
The PHWF’s chairman, 63-year old Iranian-Canadian sociology professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, died under suspicious circumstances on February 9 while he was being held in Evin Prison for interrogations.
Judicial officials claimed Seyed-Emami had committed “suicide” before there was an autopsy.
Opposition-run websites have reported that the environmentalists were arrested for opposing the state’s building of missile sites on environmentally sensitive land in Iran.
In August 2018, the families sent a letter to the heads of the country’s three branches of state calling for the environmentalists to be allowed access to counsel and for their freedom.
The detainees have not had access to lawyers and been denied regular visitation and contact with the outside world while being held for long periods in solitary confinement.
“Your Excellency is well aware of the hardships associated with solitary confinement, the pressures from lack of contact with relatives for long periods and various difficulties and illnesses caused by the prison environment,” the families said in their letter to Khamenei.
“All of our detained loved ones are among the best and brightest activists and experts in the field of environmentalism. For love of nature and their country, they have sacrificed their youth without any material gain to protect the environment within the framework of the law.”
The chief of Iran’s Department of Environment, Vice President Isa Kalantari, told state media in August 2018 that the judiciary has warned him to stop inquiring about the environmentalists.
“The judiciary has ordered us not to get involved,” Kalantari said in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency on August 13, 2018. “They told us this is none of our business and we shouldn’t pursue it.”
“The esteemed intelligence minister has repeatedly said there is no evidence that the detainees had spied and yet the judiciary has still not resolved their situation,” Kalantari added. “Almost all of our NGOs are at a standstill because they don’t know to what extent they can operate without being accused of spying.”