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Families Of Jailed Iran Ecologists Once Again Demand Their Release

File photo - Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami a leading ecological researcher in Iran who was detained in early 2018 and died in prison two weeks later.

In an open letter to the head of the Islamic Republic judiciary, some relatives of eight imprisoned ecologists in Iran have called for the immediate release of their loved ones.

The families who signed the letter insist that eighteen months after their detention, the Justice Department and "intelligence agents" affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have "failed to present any evidence" against them.

Nearly two months after sending another letter to the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raeesi (Raeisi), the relatives have reiterated in their new letter June 28 that, in spite of the "violations” during the investigations into the conservationists’ case, nothing has been changed, and the "illegal procedure" against the eight is still underway.

Meanwhile, the signatories to the letter have listed a series of violations committed by the agents of the fearsome IRGC Intelligence Organization and the judicial authorities, including denying the detainees the right to have access to legal counsel, transferring them to unknown detention centers, threatening them after wrapping up their interrogations and issuing the indictment.

During the first sessions of the environmentalists’ trial, their attorneys were not present, and only lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary were allowed to defend three of the suspects.

One of the "approved" lawyers, Kazem Hosseini, had earlier disclosed that the IRGC intelligence agents did not even permit the attorneys to talk to their clients in the court.

Ms. Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jokar, Ms. Sepideh Kashani, Amirhossein Khaleqi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Taher Qadirian, Sam Rajabi, and Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, are members of a local environmental group called the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which was established by Iranian-Canadian sociology professor and well-known environmentalist Kavous Seyyed-Emami.

Emami was arrested along with the other eight environmentalists in January 2018 but died in jail a few weeks later under suspicious circumstances. Authorities at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison maintain that the 63-year-old Emami committed suicide while in custody, an explanation his family categorically rejects.

The relatives of the eight have insisted in their letter that holding their loved ones in temporary detention for more than a year is "illegal", noting that, based on Article 242 of the Criminal Procedures Regulations, in non-murder cases, holding suspects in temporary custody for more than a year is against the law.

Furthermore, the Prosecutor-General's insistence on the conservationists' guilt contradicts the findings of three major state agencies in Iran, including the country's highest security body, the Ministry of Intelligence, which has stated that the accused are all innocent of spying charges filed against them.

The chief of Iran's Department of Environment, Vice President Isa Kalantari also told state media in August 2018 that the judiciary has warned him to stop inquiring about the environmentalists.

"The esteemed intelligence minister has repeatedly said there is no evidence that the detainees had spied and yet the judiciary has still not resolved their situation," Kalantari said. "Almost all of our NGOs are at a standstill because they don't know to what extent they can operate without being accused of spying."

Moreover, their continued detainment has prompted an international outcry. The UN has called the charges against the environmentalists "hard to fathom" and in February 2018 stated, "Nowhere in the world, including Iran, should conservation be equated to spying or regarded as a crime."

In October 2018, Human Rights Watch also called the accusations against the eight environmentalists "ridiculous."

In an earlier letter to the Islamic Republic Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the relatives of the ecologists had "beseeched" him to immediately order the release of their loved ones and pave the way for a fair judicial process with access to legal counsel.

Khamenei has not responded to the letter, so far.

"All of our detained loved ones are among the best and brightest activists and experts in the field of environmentalism. For love of nature and their country, they have sacrificed their youth without any material gain to protect the environment within the framework of the law," the families said in another letter addressed to the heads of the country's three branches of the state, in August 2018.