More than 2,700 Iranian public figures and civil society actors have penned a joint open letter to Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the current chief justice of Iran, asking him to reconsider the case against a group of environmental activists who were first arrested in 2018.
Morad Tahbaz, Hooman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Nilofar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Sam Rajabi, Amir Hossein Khaleghi and Abdolreza Kuhpayeh were sentenced in late 2019 to a combined total of 58 years in prison on spurious charges of “espionage” and “collaboration with hostile governments”.
Technically Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence is the only authority that can legally accuse a party of espionage. But the then-Minister of Intelligence had a difference of opinion with rival organization the IRGC Intelligence Unit (IRGC-IO), stating himself that the group were not spies and in all likelihood blameless.
The then-head of the Environmental Protection Organization also publicly admitted there was no documentary evidence to support the espionage charge. In light of the recent changes to the leadership of IRGC-IO, the letter’s signatories said, the case ought to be re-examined.
The signatories came from a range of different professionalpri backgrounds and included professors at the University of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti University, former top officials in the Environmental Protection Organization, and a large number of artists, creatives and human rights advocates.
The group referred to Article 37 of the Iranian Constitution and Article 120 of the Islamic Penal Code, both of which command the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. Based on this, they said, “We earnestly request that the documents in this case be re-examined by the Ministry of Information and the IRGC-IO.
“Brig. Gen. Kazemi [the new head of IRGC-IO] should undergo an assessment so that, God forbid, the rights of people who have dedicated a large part of their lives to protecting the country's environment are not lost."
They also demanded that the eight be granted their legal rights while in prison. Having all served at least a third of their sentences, they wrote, “These people are fully eligible for parole.”
Morad Tahbaz, a British-US-Iranian triple national, is a co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) and many of the other detainees were formerly his colleagues. Kavous Seyed-Emami, a faculty member at Imam Sadegh University and the Foundation’s former chief executive, was also arrested in February 2018. The authorities claimed he had “committed suicide” in his cell a few days later, which his family has always denied.