Detained Conservationists Niloufar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani on Hunger Strike
Niloufar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani, two of the eight wildlife conservationists detained in Iran since January 2018, began a hunger strike on August 3, 2019, a source with knowledge of their cases told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“After more than 560 days in detention, the people accused in this case, and their families, are still unaware of the alleged crimes they committed and they continue to be denied transfers to public wards in prison despite the completion of the preliminary investigations,” said the source who spoke to CHRI on the condition of anonymity on August 8, 2019.
The source added that the conservationists are demanding due process and to be released on bail ahead of their trials.
An informed source who spoke with CHRI in January 2019 said the detainees have been subjected to prolonged periods of solitary confinement and only sporadically granted severely limited access to counsel or phone calls with family members.
“They have had no legal representation for the entire duration of their arrest until the indictments were issued in late July ,” the source told CHRI, adding that after “one year of effort,” their families were finally allowed to choose lawyers for them in January 2019.
“They have no clue about what is happening outside, and express their immense stress of isolation… and continue to voice their innocence,” added the source.
On August 8, the reformist Etemad newspaper published a report by the state-funded Eskan news agency stating that Bayani, Kashani and Jowkar, Khaleghi, Ghadirian are currently on hunger strike. Etemad later removed the report without explanation, as did Eskan, but it had already been republished on other Persian-language news sites.)
Sepideh Kashani’s brother, Hamid Kashani, told the opposition-run news site, Ensaf, that her sister is demanding to be moved from solitary confinement to a public ward or be released on bail.
“What they are demanding is a fair and coherent trial,” Hamid Kashani said. “In the meantime, they should come out of temporary detention and be released on bail until their trial.”
“Or they should at least be transferred to a public ward because their situation is really bad,” he added.” They took this action because they are under a lot of pressure and have lost control of their fate.”
As news of the hunger strikes spread on social media, some of the conservationists’ family members went to Evin Prison on August 7 to enquire about their loved ones’ conditions.
“One of the authorities denied they were on hunger strike and said the detainees would be able to make phone calls to their families the following day,” the source told CHRI. “However, since then none of the conservationists have spoken to their families, except Sam Rajabi.”
“Sam called and spoke to his mother on Wednesday, August 7 but said he doesn’t know whether the others were on hunger strike because they are kept separate,” the source added.
Three other detained conservationists—Houman Jowkar, Amir Hossein Khaleghi and Taher Ghadirian—also began hunger strikes on August 6, according to Iranian media reports. CHRI is attempting to confirm these reports.
Bayani, Kashani, Jowkar, Khaleghi, Ghadirian, along with Morad Tahbaz, Sam Rajabi, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh were arrested in late January 2018 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) intelligence organization and accused of spying for the U.S. and Israel through their work for the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF).
While in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison, PWHF’s managing director Kavous Seyed-Emami, also a citizen of Canada, died under suspicious circumstances in February 2018. To date, no one has been held accountable for his death and his wife, Maryam Mombeini has been unlawfully barred from leaving the country.
The UN has called the charges against the conservationists “hard to fathom.”
“Nowhere in the world, including Iran, should conservation be equated to spying or regarded as a crime,” said UN human rights experts in February 2018. “Detention of human rights defenders for their work is arbitrary in nature.”
Three major state agencies in Iran, including the country’s highest security body, the Supreme National Security Council, have refuted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence organization’s allegation that the conservationists committed espionage.
In a letter addressing Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, the families noted that the judiciary and security forces had violated at least seven laws in handling the conservationists’ cases including relying on forced false “confessions” obtained under the threat of torture, denying the detainees access to counsel, and blocking them from posting bail.
“This case typifies the fact that hundreds of citizens in Iran are trapped in a judicial system in which there is no requirement of evidence and forced false ‘confessions’ are used to compensate for this lack of evidence,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi in February 2019.
“The judiciary is disregarding conclusions of the state’s own agencies and instead bowing to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who concocted this case, giving lie to their long-stated claim of judicial independence and the rule of law in Iran,” Ghaemi added.
Read this article in Persian.