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More Than 1,000 Iranian Activists Back Jailed Environmentalists in Letter to Judiciary

This image published by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) shows eight Iranian environmentalists who have been detained in Iran since January and February on suspicion of being spies. (Courtesy - CHRI)

More than 1,000 Iranian civil society activists have signed a letter to Iran’s judiciary chief urging him to resolve the case of eight environmentalists jailed since January and February on suspicion of being spies.

Iranian authorities detained seven of the environmentalists in January and the eighth in February. The seven detained in January are members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Another member of that foundation detained in January, Iranian-Canadian university professor Kavous Seyed Emami, died in prison the following month in disputed circumstances.

In the letter posted Monday on a Telegram channel dedicated to Emami, the 1,124 signatories called on judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani to resolve “ambiguities” in the case of the eight detainees in a way that is transparent and respects their dignity.

The signatories, who include current and former government officials, artists, environmentalists and other civil society activists, said the detainees are renowned for their work in protecting Iran’s wildlife and have not engaged in unlawful activity. The letter does not explicitly call for the release of the jailed environmentalists.

Iranian lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, who has sought to represent the detainees, said last month the judiciary revised its charges against five of them from espionage to “sowing corruption on earth,” which could lead to the death penalty.

In an October 24 news conference announcing the revised charges, Tehran's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, accused the detainees of “seeking proximity to military sites under the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from those sites.”

In a sign of division within the Iranian establishment, a fact-finding committee of government ministers who examined the case of the environmentalists announced May 22 that it found no evidence of spying by the detainees. The committee involved Iran’s environmental department and intelligence ministry.

Iranian state-run news agency IRNA referenced the committee’s exoneration of the environmentalists in a Monday report summarizing the civil society activists’ letter to Larijani. But Iranian Vice President Isa Kalantari, who heads the environmental department, has said the powerful Iranian judiciary has blocked him and other officials from taking further action in the case.

Judicial officials have said Emami, the detained Iranian-Canadian environmentalist, committed suicide in prison, but overseas family and friends of Emami have cast doubt on that assertion.

In a statement released last month, the head of New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, said: “Nothing justifies the continued incarceration of these eight environmentalists, let alone charges leveled against them that could carry the death sentence.”

“One detainee has already lost his life during this travesty of justice,” Ghaemi added. “Iran should immediately release the remaining detainees to prevent further loss of innocent life.”

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

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