London, 2 Mar – Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have written to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express “strong concern” over the prolonged detention of eight environmental activists who are accused of spying.
The 26 MEPs have called on Rouhani to release the environmentalists, highlighting that the closed-door trial, which began January 30, falls “seriously short” of fair trial standards.
In the letter, the MEPs bring up that Judge Abdolghassem Salavati, who is presiding over the case in Branch 15 of Teheran’s Revolutionary Court, reportedly stopped the lawyer of one defendant – Sam Rajabi – from appearing in court, while no defendant has been allowed to freely choose their own lawyer; a contradiction of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
They also address that one defendant – Niloufar Bayani – told the court she had been tortured into a confession whilst in prison.
The MEPs, from several different factions, including Socialists, Greens, Liberals, Christian Democrats, Conservatives, wrote: “We believe that respect for international human rights standards should be at the core of EU-Iran bilateral relations, and it is cases like these that serve as a litmus test for your government’s commitment to making progress in its human rights record.”
The eight detainees, who were arrested in January 2018, are accused of spying and various national security crimes; while four defendants are charged with “sowing corruption on Earth”, a crime that carries the death penalty.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and parliament have affirmed that there is no evidence to support the spying charges, but the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Judiciary insist on the detainees’ guilt.
The letter read: “We understand that the Iranian judiciary has accused the activists of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified strategic information, but a committee established under your authority has found no evidence of these allegations.”
All of the detainees, which also includes Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Taher Qadirian, and Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, are members of an environmental group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PHWF).
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi claimed they were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them”, when the activists set up camera traps, with full permission from the government, to track an endangered type of cheetah.
The PHWF was set up by Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyyed-Emami, who was arrested with the group and died under suspicious circumstances in jail in February 2018.
Authorities claimed he committed suicide, but refused to conduct an investigation and placed a travel ban on his wife, Iranian-Canadian Maryam Mombeini.
The MEPs also called for a full investigation into Emami’s death and criticized Mombeini’s travel ban.
This case has also attracted the attention of actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, who asked his Twitter followers on February 6 to “stand by those risking their lives to protect the future of our planet and its inhabitants” and shared a petition calling for the release of the environmentalists.