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.
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 says it has held a third session of a closed-door trial of eight Iranian conservationists who have spent a year in detention on spying-related charges that their supporters say are trumped-up.

A report by the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency said the defendants appeared in a Tehran court on Tuesday for the third time since the trial began last month.

The two previous sessions were held on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2. The report said an Iranian prosecutor read more of the indictment against the defendants, whose next court date would be announced later. 

Details of the trial have been difficult to obtain because Iran did not allow the conservationists to bring their own lawyers into the courtroom, and the defendants’ relatives declined to speak to the media. 

Iranian lawyer Mohamad Aghasi, who had been trying to defend one of the conservationists, Sam Rajabi, made a Sunday announcement on Twitter that he no longer formally represented Rajabi.

In a first Twitter post, Aghasi said he had just received a phone call from Rajabi’s mother, saying Rajabi told her that Aghasi had been dismissed from the case. Aghasi then repeated his assertion that Rajabi previously had wanted only Aghasi to represent him.

In a second tweet, Aghasi said that despite no longer being Rajabi’s lawyer, he felt obligated to declare that Rajabi has been acquitted of espionage while still facing two other security-related charges. There was no comment on the status of Rajabi’s case in Iranian state media. 

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."

?Besides Rajabi, the other conservationists on trial are Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh and Morad Tahbaz.

Last month, state news agency IRNA said four of the conservationists were charged with "sowing corruption on Earth," a crime punishable by death, while three other activists were charged with "espionage," and the last one with "conspiracy against national security."

Sam Rajabi, a member of the Persian Heritage Wildl
Sam Rajabi, a member of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation detained by Iranian authorities in January 2018 on suspicion of spying, appears in this undated photo.

?The eight defendants were detained in January 2018 along with a ninth member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, 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. 

A reliable source in Iran has told VOA Persian that Iranian authorities detained a 10th member of the Iranian conservation group, Pouria Sepahvand, on Feb. 2. 

In its reporting on the first two sessions of the trial, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said the indictment was based on forced confessions of one of the female defendants, Bayani.

CHRI quoted a source as saying Bayani interrupted the first session several times, claiming investigators extracted her confessions under mental and physical duress and that she had since retracted them. 

CHRI has called on Iran’s judiciary to dismiss any confessions obtained under duress and to heed conclusions of several other Iranian government agencies that have said they found no evidence of espionage by the conservationists. 

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.