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Iran Detains Conservationist as 8 Others Tried in Court


This image, published by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, shows eight Iranian environmentalists who went on trial in Tehran, Jan. 30, 2019, on suspicion of being spies.

Iran has detained another environmentalist who worked for the same Iranian conservation organization as eight activists who went on trial in Tehran last week after spending a year in detention.

A reliable source in Iran told VOA Persian that Iranian authorities detained Pouria Sepahvand of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation on Saturday. The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) confirmed Sepahvand's arrest in a Monday tweet and said he had been taken to an unknown location.

Sepahvand's arrest came on the same day that eight of his colleagues appeared in a Tehran court for a second closed-door session of their trial, whose first session was held on January 30. Iran's state-controlled Fars News Agency has referred to the defendants, who include six men and two women, as "individuals accused of spying on the country's military installations."

Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, told VOA Persian that prosecutors in Saturday's court session continued with a lengthy indictment reading they had begun last Wednesday.

Sepehri Far also cited a CHRI source as saying the charges read out in court so far have been based solely on forced confessions of one of the female defendants, Niloufar Bayani. CHRI previously had quoted a source as saying the female defendant, now identified as Bayani, interrupted Wednesday's proceedings several times to assert that investigators extracted her confessions under mental and physical duress and she had since retracted them.

The other conservationists on trial include Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi and Morad Tahbaz. State news agency IRNA has said four of the conservationists have been charged with "sowing corruption on Earth," a crime punishable by death, while three other activists are charged with "espionage," and the last one with "conspiracy against national security."

The eight defendants were detained in January 2018 along with a ninth member of the conservation group, Iranian-Canadian dual national Kavous Seyed Emami, who died in custody the following month in what authorities termed a suicide. Family members disputed that assertion and called for further investigation.

Iranian state media said several lawmakers met with President Hassan Rouhani as he visited parliament on Monday and urged him to ensure the eight conservationists on trial are granted legal protections, including a right to choose their own lawyers.

State news agency IRNA previously had reported that the defense lawyers present in court include several approved by the judiciary to handle national security cases. Mohamad Hossein Aghasi, a human rights lawyer representing defendant Rajabi, has said authorities have barred him from participating in the trial without explanation.

One of the lawmakers who met with Rouhani on Monday, Mohammad Reza Tabish, told state-controlled news agency ISNA that they asked the president to be mindful of the concerns of human rights activists and other Iranians about the case against the conservationists.

Tabish said Rouhani responded by expressing hope that the defendants would get a fair trial. The lawmaker also said parliamentary speaker Ali Lairjani agreed to meet the families of the defendants a future date.

In an interview with VOA Persian last week, former Iranian deputy Iranian environment chief Kaveh Madani said he was not surprised to hear reports about one defendant's purported forced confessions and another defendant's lawyer not being allowed to participate in the trial.

"As in many national security cases in Iran, I assume this one would not necessarily involve a due process," said Madani, an environmental scientists now based at Yale University in the United States. "I don't know how real justice would be applied in their case, that is what I'm worried about."

This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.

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