A group of almost 300 conservationists from 66 countries are appealing to Iran to free the group of environmentalists charged with spying earlier this year including Niloufar Bayani a Canadian permanent resident.
The eight environmentalists have been charged with national security crimes including spying, which if they are convicted is a crime punishable by death in Iran. Originally the group of conservationists were 9, however Canadian citizen, Kavous Sayed-Emami tragically died in custody on 8 February 2018.
In October 2018 after 9 months of detention, five of the eight conservationists were charged with the crime of “sowing corruption on Earth”.
Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) said,
“This is a very bizarre charge to bring against environmental activists,”
“Nine months of pre-trial detention with no clear charges and no access to a lawyer is an unusually long time even by Iran’s dismal due process standards. It’s hard not to conclude that the authorities are struggling to gather enough evidence to charge them with any recognizable crime,”
Amongst the detained environmentalists is Niloufar Bayani a Canadian permanent resident. In October 2018, Niloufar and 4 of the other environmentalists were charged with spying after using cameras to monitor an endangered cheetah. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps alleges that the team used camera traps to collect information on Iran’s missile program.
In response to Niloufar’s detention and charge, Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of her detention and is “deeply concerned.” Their spokesperson said,
“Our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights and our diplomatic engagement with Iran since then has tackled these issues head-on,”
At the time of detention Bayani was Project Advisor under the Disaster Risk Reduction portfolio of the United Nations Environment Programme. As well as carrying out work for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation works on the conservation of endangered species in Iran, working on a number of conservation projects in tandem with international organisations such as the UN.
The consortium of environmentalists emailed a letter of concern to Iran’s UN ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo. The group includes British conservationist Jane Goodall, considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. Their letter to the UN addresses the injustice in the detention of the environmentalists and calls for their immediate release.
In their letter they explain the use of camera traps in conservation,
‘We understand these charges are in connection to conservationists using tools of science, such as camera traps, which are suspected of having been used to undermine the national security interests of Iran. Camera traps are now a standard tool for wildlife monitoring, being deployed for that purpose in many regions around the world.’
They defend the work of their colleagues stating that they, ‘are convinced that their work and research had no second means or objectives.’
Addressing their concerns directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the group continue to demonstrate reason by stressing their understanding of the political tensions, but stress that they wholly stand by the innocence of their fellow conservationists, and offered witness testimonies in proof of their innocence,
‘We…urge you to call for a fair and just evaluation of the evidence, access to lawyers of their choice and a transparent trial.’