In the Islamic Republic, “corruption on earth” is a serious charge, and people found guilty of the offense can be punished with long jail sentences — and even face the death penalty.
That’s what Iran’s judiciary have now levelled against five environmentalists who were arrested eight months ago.
Article 228 of the new Islamic Penal Code passed in 2013 defines “corruption on earth” as follows: “Any person who extensively commits felony against the bodily entity of people, offenses against internal or international security of the state, spreading lies, disruption of the economic system of the state, arson and destruction of properties, distribution of poisonous and bacterial and dangerous materials, and establishment of, or aiding and abetting in, places of corruption and prostitution [on a scale] that causes severe disruption in the public order of the state and insecurity, or causes harsh damage to the bodily entity of people or public or private properties, or causes distribution of corruption and prostitution on a large scale, shall be considered as ‘corrupt on earth’ and shall be sentenced to death” [emphasis added.]
IranWire spoke to the lawyer of some of the arrested environmentalists. “The prosecutor has asked the examining magistrate to inform five defendants in the case that they have been charged with corruption on earth and the magistrate has accepted,” Mohammad Hossein Aghasi told me. According to him, the prosecutor changed the indictment against the five individuals following a letter his office received from the Revolutionary Guards via the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).
The five individuals had previously faced charges of espionage, but the new charge is much more serious. “It appears that the army [the Guards] sent a report-like letter to the council,” Aghasi said. “Mr. Shamkhani, the SNSC’s secretary, sent the letter to the prosecutor without comments and the prosecutor decided to change charges against them based on this letter.”
In a news conference on October 14, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the judiciary spokesman, told reporters that the trial of the case of the arrested environmentalist has yet to be scheduled because no indictment has been issued due what he described as “certain defects” [Persian link]. He added that the judiciary was working to remedy the defects.
The eight environmentalists in the case — Sam Rajabi, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Hooman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloofar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh — have been behind bars for more than eight months. On January 24 and 25, Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents arrested the activists, who are all members of the environmental group the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. They were accused of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified strategic information and pass it on to foreign spy agencies.
One of those arrested was Kavous Seyed-Emami, a professor of sociology at Tehran’s Imam Sadegh University. On February 9, the judiciary informed his family that he had committed suicide in prison. For those who knew Seyed-Emami, including his family, this claim was impossible to believe.
A Fishing Rod as a Tool for Spying
A day after the announcement, Tehran's prosecutor, Jafari Dolatabadi, claimed that Seyed-Emami had confessed to his crimes before committing suicide. “There were many confessions against this individual and he confessed against himself as well, and unfortunately he committed suicide,” he said. When asked about the arrests, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei told reporters that they had been arrested because they were passing on “classified information about sensitive locations to foreign intelligence services.” It was also claimed that the environmentalists had installed cameras in sensitive locations to monitor the Revolutionary Guards’ missile activities. In May, state-run Iranian TV aired a report justifying the detentions. The broadcast featured a fishing rod, which the environmentalists had apparently used as an “antenna” to relay “secret information” to the CIA and Mossad.
But since then, the authorities have not released any evidence supporting the charge of espionage against the accused. Even Isa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency, said that the Intelligence Ministry had dismissed the charges of espionage against the detainees. And, posting on Twitter, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist member of the parliament, also confirmed that the Intelligence Ministry did not believe the charge of espionage to be true. “At a meeting of the National Security and Foreign Policy [committee],” he wrote, “in answer to questions from principlist [conservative] representatives...experts from the ministry clearly and unequivocally announced that they had found no evidence that they were spies.”
But now, according to Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, the charge against five of the eight — Morad Tahbaz, Niloofar Bayani, Hooman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani and Taher Ghadirian — has been changed from espionage to corruption on earth. “They had chosen their own lawyers,” Aghasi said, but the judiciary “did not accept their lawyers and, instead, assigned them its own public defenders...Now the case is ready to be sent for trial.”
No Right to Choose a Lawyer
“I was allowed to act as the lawyer for Sam Rajabi and the examining magistrate accepted it,” Aghasi said. “But of course Sam Rajabi is not charged with corruption on earth. The families of two others, Jokar and Ghadirian [who have been charged with corruption on earth] asked me to represent them but for that we have to wait for the case to go to trial, because while the case is with the prosecution, the examining magistrate can reject lawyers who have not been approved by the head of the judiciary and I am not among them. As a result, I cannot yet be the attorney on the record for these two.”
Aghasi’s comments refer to a note added to Article 48 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure in 2015. In cases involving serious charges such as those carrying the death penalty or imprisonment for more than five years, during the pre-trial investigative phase defendants are only entitled to select attorneys that have been previously approved by the head of the judiciary. At the moment, this list is comprised of only 20 “approved” attorneys.
As a result, Aghasi was only able to accompany and defend Sam Rajabi during questioning by the examining magistrate. Rajabi’s statements, he says, were recorded. “We expect he will be indicted soon,” Aghasi said. According to him, Rajabi was also questioned about the espionage charge at the beginning of the session but, he said, “at the end questions by the examining magistrate took a different turn. The magistrate asked me not to talk to the media until the prosecution makes its final decision. The decision will probably be made this week.”
I asked Aghasi what he thinks about the charge of “corruption on earth” against five of the defendants. “In my opinion and in the opinion of many lawyers, this charge does not stick,” he said, “because even if somebody has engaged in espionage the charge of corruption on earth does not apply. We have to look into the cases when they go to court to see on what basis this charge has been made against them. For the moment the cases are secret and nobody knows what is in them except the examining magistrate and the interrogators. We have to wait for the cases to go to trial.”
More on the persecution of the environmentalists in Iran:
Six Baha’i Environmentalists Arrested, September 25, 2018
Security Agents Raid Home of Murdered Activist, June 26, 2018
An Iranian Patriot Vs. a Corrupt System, April 19, 2018
Environmental Expert Kaveh Madani Leaves Iran, April 16, 2018
Son Calls for Independent Investigation into “Suicide”, February 15, 2018
Kaveh Madani Remains Under Surveillance, February 14, 2018
The “Suicide” Project: A Warning to Activists, February 12, 2018
Scientist Arrested Four Months after Returning to Iran, February 11, 2018
News of Iranian-Canadian's "Suicide" in Prison Shocks Iran, February 10, 2018
Can a 36-year-old Scientist Solve Iran’s Water Crisis?, December 2017