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Family of Jailed Iranian Environmentalist Speaks Out, Defying Tehran

Sam Rajabi, a member of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation detained by Iranian authorities in January on suspicion of spying, appears in this undated photo.

Relatives of an Iranian environmentalist detained in Iran as an alleged spy are waging an increasingly public battle for his release, defying what they say are official efforts to discourage their campaign.

Environmentalist Sam Rajabi, a member of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation, has been jailed since January 25, when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained him at his Tehran home. Rajabi is one of 15 Iranian environmentalists detained by the IRGC in late January and February on suspicion of spying for U.S. and Israeli intelligence, an allegation ridiculed by their family members.

Iranian rights group Campaign for the Defense of Political and Civil Prisoners published an open letter from Rajabi’s sister to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday. In the letter, which the group says Katayon Rajabi posted on Instagram, she demands to know which Iranian institution is behind her brother’s detention.

“On what legal basis are authorities threatening families (of the detained environmentalists) by telling them that their children will be executed if they continue to pursue the cases?” she also asked Rouhani.

Sam Rajabi’s mother also spoke out about his case to VOA Persian on Wednesday. Speaking by phone from Tehran, Lili Houshmand Afshar said she was part of a group of mothers of the detainees who met with Iran’s deputy judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie two weeks ago to appeal for their release. She said Ejeie responded by telling the mothers that he only could ask the judge presiding over the detainees to try to expedite the legal process and could not tell the judge what to do.

Rajabi’s mother, who has cancer, said authorities allowed her to meet her son at Tehran’s Evin prison two weeks ago. She said she also received a prison phone call from her son three days later, but has not heard from him since.

“My physical health is not the priority,” Houshmand Afshar said. “My spirits are steady, and in order to prove the innocence of my child, I will do anything.”

A fact-finding committee of Iranian government ministers who examined the detentions of the environmentalists announced May 22 that it found no evidence of spying by the detainees. But Tehran’s chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi rejected that finding, telling reporters May 24 that the ministers did not have all the facts and judicial authorities would continue their investigative work.

One of the detained environmentalists, Iranian-Canadian sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, died in prison in February under disputed circumstances. Judicial officials said he committed suicide, but overseas family and friends of Emami said they doubted that assertion.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.