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Eight Iranian Environmentalists Accused Of Spying Go On Trial

All of the activists are members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Clockwise from top left: Sam Rajabi, Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz, Kavous Seyed-Emami, Taher Ghadirian, Amirhossein Khaleghi, and Sepideh Kashani (not pictured Adbolreza Kouhpayeh)

Eight Iranian environmentalists accused of spying appeared in a Tehran court on January 30 for a closed-door trial, local media report.

Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, a representative of one of the accused, said that he was not present in court as the state designated its own handpicked lawyers to represent the defendants, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Four of the defendants were charged last year with “sowing corruption on Earth,” a charge that can carry the death sentence in Iran.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi has claimed the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”

Three other activists are accused of espionage and the last one has been charged with "conspiracy against national security," IRNA reported.

Human Rights Watch in October called the accusations against the eight environmentalists “ridiculous.”

“With the judiciary serving as one of the main cornerstones in Iran’s apparatus of repression, there is a major risk that they won’t get a fair trial,” the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement.

Kavous Seyed Emami died in prison under unclear circumstances.
Kavous Seyed Emami died in prison under unclear circumstances.

The environmental activists who went on trial are Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh -- all members of a local environmental group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

The 63-year-old managing director of the group, Kavous Seyed Emami, was also detained but died in prison under disputed circumstances.

The Judiciary said the Iranian-Canadian sociology professor committed suicide. The claim has been questioned by his family and acquaintances.

The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation works to protect endangered animals and raise public awareness about the environment.

With reporting by AFP, IRNA, and Fars