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Five Detained Environmentalists Face New Charge Carrying The Death Penalty

Iranian environmental activists who have been jailed since January. Lower right side is photo of Prof Kavous Seyyed-Emami who mysteriously died in jail.

The charge against five detained environmentalists has been changed from "espionage" to "Corruption on Earth" after the examining magistrate received a letter from the Iranian Army, one of the former lawyers of the accused cited Tehran Prosecutor-General as saying.

Speaking to Radio Farda on Sunday, October 21, veteran lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi said that he has found out by chance that the army letter came via the Islamic Republic's Supreme National Security Council.

Based on the Islamic Penal Code, corruption on earth is punishable by death.

Eight environmentalists, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleqi, AbdolReza Kouhpayeh, Taher Qadirian, Sam Rajabi and Iranian-American dual citizen Morad Tahbaz have been held in temporary custody by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Intelligence Organization since last January.

Iranian-Canadian founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Professor Kavous Seyyed-Emami, who was detained alongside the eight ecologists, mysteriously died last January in Tehran's infamous prison, Evin.

The authorities maintain that Seyyed-Emami committed suicide behind bars, an allegation categorically denied by the environmentalist's relatives.

Mohammad Hossein Aghasi who represented three of the detained environmentalists, Houman Jokar, Taher Qadirian and Sam Rajabi, was recently rejected by the Islamic Republic's judiciary and replaced by two assigned Public Counsels.

​Based on a controversial clause in Iran's Article 48 of Criminal Procedure Act, the lawyers representing suspects in preliminary stages of security related cases should be appointed by the Islamic Republic's judiciary.

The clause has been dismissed by several legal experts and attorneys as "unfair" and "against the country's Constitution".

In his interview with Radio Farda, Aghasi admitted that he is unaware of the content of the Iranian Army's letter, but speculated that it could be a response to the Prosecutor-General's enquiry which has led to changing the charge against the accused.

In such cases, as a rule, Aghasi suggested, "The prosecutor and the Examining Magistrate differ over the charges, but, in the environmentalists' case, the Examining Magistrate has accepted the Prosecutor's opinion and changed the charge from espionage to Corruption on Earth."

​Several websites, including Kalemeh, have listed the accused as Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Taher Qadirian and Morad Tahbaz.

Judicial authorities earlier insisted on the charge of "espionage" and "rendering classified information on sensitive facilities to foreign intelligence services". But now the new charge can carry the death penalty.

According to Article 228 of the new Islamic Penal Code adopted in 2013, “corruption on earth” is defined as: “Any person who extensively commits felony against the...people, offenses against internal or international security of the state, spreading lies, disruption of the economic system of the state, arson and destruction of properties, distribution of poisonous and bacterial and dangerous materials, and establishment of, or aiding and abetting in, places of corruption and prostitution…shall be considered as ‘corrupt on earth’ and shall be sentenced to death.”

However, "The new charges against the detained environmentalists have not yet been officially announced", Aghasi cited the head of Department of Environment (DoE), Isa Kalantari as saying.

The Islamic Republic's Intelligence Ministry has repeatedly insisted that there is no evidence of espionage by the environmentalists, who were arrested by the IRGC.

In the meantime, social media posts on October 22 have referred to the mysterious murder of a prominent environmentalist, Farshid Hakki.

The managing director of "Economic Reviews" monthly magazine, Abdolreza Davari has tweeted, "The news was shocking. Sadly, legal expert, economist and scientific advisor of the Economic Reviews, Dr. Farshid Hakki was murdered in a tragic way."

Reportedly, Hakki was stabbed to death near his house in Tehran and his body burnt by the murderer(s).

A day later, the Tehran police chief claimed that according to the coroner, Dr. Hakki set himself on fire. The office of the coroner has denied making such a determination.

Dr. Haki was a human rights activist, opposing child labor and member of environmental campaign "Supporting Kind Zagros" or the "Sound of Water footsteps".

In an open letter, Davari has called upon the Islamic Republic's authorities to investigate Dr. Hakki's mysterious murder.