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Startseite Urgent Actions 2019 03 Tortured conservationists face death penalty
UA 033/19
Abgeschlossen am 8. August 2019
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27.6.19: Appeal deadline extension

We are extending the appeal deadline for the 8 conservationists till 8 August 2019.

We need to keep a global and urgent mobilization on their case as their trial is ongoing.

Tortured conservationists face death penalty

AI-Index: MDE 13/9978/2019

Eight detained conservationists could face the death penalty or long prison sentences, following a grossly unfair trial in which they were accused of trumped-up spying charges. Their charges stem solely from their conservation activities including carrying out research into Iran’s endangered wildlife. They have said they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.


On 24 and 25 January 2018, Revolutionary Guards officials entered the office of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Tehran, questioning staff and searching the premises for several hours. They then took several members of the staff including Niloufar Bayani and Sam Rajabi to their homes, searching the premises and confiscating personal belongings. They arrested others in their homes. They then transferred eight conservationists to Section 2-A of Evin prison, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, where they were held for months without access to lawyers and with very limited access to their families through short sporadic telephone calls. Family visits thereafter were infrequent and short, and held under supervision in the prosecutor’s office in Evin prison. None of the scientists have been allowed access to lawyers of their own choosing. Several of the defendants’ first choice of lawyer was refused because the judge argued that the lawyer in question is “active on Twitter, posts tweets about human rights and his cases, and speaks to the media”. Even in court, they were not allowed to speak with their lawyers. Sam Rajabi’s repeated requests to be represented by his own independently chosen lawyer were rejected by the judge, leaving him without legal representation in court.

The eight conservationists are among nine scientists who were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in January 2018. One of them, Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian-Iranian scientist and academic, died under suspicious circumstances in Evin prison two weeks after his arrest. The authorities claimed that he had committed suicide, a claim contested by his family, and refused to release his body unless his family agreed to an immediate burial without an independent autopsy. The Iranian authorities have failed to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into his death and have banned his wife from leaving the country. In court, Niloufar Bayani said that her interrogators showed her pictures of the dead body of Kavous Seyed-Emami and implied that she would meet a similar fate.

The authorities have accused the eight conservationists of using scientific and environmental projects, such as tracking the Asiatic cheetah with cameras, as a cover to collect classified military information, even though the use of cameras is a standard tool used by conservationists to monitor rare and endangered species. In May 2018, a governmental committee consisting of the ministers of intelligence, interior and justice and the president’s legal deputy looked into the detention of the conservationists and concluded that there was no evidence to suggest they were spies. Several senior officials in the Iranian government including from the department of environment have called for the scientists’ release, citing a lack of evidence that they had engaged in espionage.

The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization. It has been licensed to operate by the Iranian government’s department of environment and carries out its research following acquisition of governmental permits. Its website says the organization “helps protect and conserve the wildlife and natural habitats of Iran through scientific research, education and awareness raising, as well as on-the-ground conservation practices and local community engagement”.

Several of the detained conservationists are members of one or more of the following groups: the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Species Survival Commission, the Cat Specialist Group and the Bear Specialist Group.

In 2018, in total, at least 63 conservationists, environmental scientists and activists were arrested in Iran.

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