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DoE Ordered To Halt Investigation Into Environmentalists’ Detention

Iranian Environmental activists who have been jailed in recent months (from top-left clockwise): Sam Rajabi, Houman Jowkar, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz , Kavous Seyed-Emami (died in detention), Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, and Sepideh Kashani -

The Islamic Republic’s judiciary has ordered the Department of Environment (DoE) to cease its investigation into the arrest of seven environmentalists who have been held incommunicado since January after being accused of espionage.

DoE head Isa Kalantari told state-run news agency IRNA August 13 that the DoE had been warned by the judiciary that the cases of the environmentalists are none of the its concern. Kalantari noted that the environmental activists, among them some renowned professors and experts, continue to be held despite an announcement from the Intelligence Ministry that there is no evidence to suggest their involvement in espionage.

Kalantari has bitterly criticized the judiciary over the proceedings against the environmentalists, which he says are shrouded in ambiguity.

Keeping the environmentalist behind bars under the vague accusation of espionage, but without filing official charges, not only violates their rights, but has also put important environmental projects on hold, Kalantari says.

Tehran’s Prosecutor-General, Abbas Ja’fari Dolatabadi, has dismissed Kalantari’s comments as “meddling in judicial matters” and insisted, “The DoE’s head and other officials in the executive branch of the government are not entitled or in a position to make statements on such affairs.”

In a July 31 open letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani, the families of the imprisoned environmentalists insisted on the innocence of their loved ones and implored the administration and parliament to send a delegation to visit the detainees and hear their story. There has been no official response to this request.

Meanwhile, the families of the detainees say they have experienced extreme difficulty reaching their loved ones.

“The detainees’ families have gone to the relevant agencies numerous times to make inquiries, but so far they have not been given any clear answers about the charges against their relatives or where they are being held,” wrote friends and colleagues of the environmentalists in another open letter to President Rouhani.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) intelligence agents arrested the environmentalists January 24, among them the Iranian-Canadian founder of Iran’s Wildlife Heritage, Kavous Seyyed-Emami. Two weeks later, officials announced that Seyyed-Emami had committed suicide at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, a story Seyyed-Emami’s friends and family categorically reject.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda’s Mahtab Vahidi-Rad in May, Seyyed-Emamis’ attorney, Payam Derafshan, said the judiciary officials responsible for Seyed-Emami’s case have not yet allowed his lawyers to see the so-called “collected evidence” against the late professor and environmental activist.

According to Derafshan, the families of the remaining detainees are under pressure to keep quiet about their loved ones behind bars. Seyed-Emami’s wife, Iranian-Canadian Maryam Mombeini, has been barred from leaving Iran and joining their sons in Canada.

“The Islamic Republic’s Prosecuter-General's office is responsible for barring people from leaving the country,” Derafshan told Radio Farda, adding, “Mombeini’s name is not on the list of people officially barred from leaving the country. Who exactly barred her from leaving Iran is still a mystery.”

Ramin, one Seyed-Emami’s sons, says his mother has been living alone since the authorities barred her from leaving Iran March 7.

“The trauma stemming from her husband’s death on February 8 has caused her extreme physiological distress,” said Ramin, who lives in Vancouver. “She has been going through so much emotionally and physically. And she doesn’t have her family to support her through this devastating time.”

The Iranian judiciary has not yet commented on Mombeini’s situation or why she has been prevented from leaving Iran.

Amnesty International has called for an impartial investigation into Seyyed-Emami’s “highly suspicious” death.

In the meantime, two female environmentalists, Niloofar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani, along with their male colleagues, Taher Qadirian, Hooman Jowkar, Mir Hossein Khaleqi, Abor-Reza Kouhpayeh, and Iranian American Morad Tahbaz remain in custody.