Human Rights Watch has called on Iran to immediately release eight environmental activists who’ve been detained since January unless authorities “can produce evidence to justify the charges against them and guarantee a fair trial.”
Four of the activists could face the death penalty after being recently charged with “sowing corruption on Earth.”
The charge, one of the most serious in Iran, was announced earlier this week by Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, who claimed the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”
“Iran’s judiciary appears determined to pursue serious charges against these environmental activists no matter how ridiculous the allegations of wrongdoing are and despite the continuing denial of the defendants’ right to see a lawyer of their choice,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement released on October 26.
“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,” Page added.
Iran has arrested more than a dozen environmental activists in past months on charges of spying for foreign intelligence agencies.
Among those detained was Iranian-Canadian environmental activist and sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, who died in prison under disputed circumstances.
The judiciary said the 63-year-old managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which works to protect endangered animals and raise public awareness about the environment, had committed suicide in prison. The claim has been questioned by his family and acquaintances.
Isa Kalantari, head of Iran's Environmental Department, said in May that a government panel has concluded there is no evidence against environmental activists rounded up on spying charges.
The panel included the ministers of justice, interior, and intelligence, as well as the president's legal deputy, Kalantari said.