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New Charge Carrying Death Penalty Confirmed Against Environmentalists

Iranian environmental activists who have been jailed in recent months. Bottom right is Seyed-Emami, who died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
Iranian environmental activists who have been jailed in recent months. Bottom right is Seyed-Emami, who died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

The Tehran prosecutor has confirmed that four of the eight detained Iranian environmentalists have been charged with "corruption on Earth", which could be punishable by death.

"The indictment against eight environmentalists behind bars has been issued and charges against a number of them has been changed from espionage to corruption on Earth", Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced.

Although dozens of legal experts believe that "corruption on Earth" has not been clearly defined in the Islamic Republic's Penal Code, the charge can be punishable by death.

Furthermore, Jafari Dolatabadi said that the legal case against the detainees is prepared and ready to be presented to courts.

Earlier on Sunday, October 21, one of the attorneys of the detained environmentalists had disclosed that the charge against five of the detainees has been changed from "espionage" to "Corruption on Earth".

Speaking to Radio Farda, veteran lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi said that the charge has been changed after the Examining Magistrate received a letter from the Iranian Army via the Islamic Republic's Supreme National Security Council.

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 63-year old Seyyed-Emami committed suicide behind bars, an allegation categorically denied by the environmentalist's relatives.

While defending the new charge, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said, after the Examining Magistrate's enquiry, and receiving a clear, detailed and expanded response from the competent sources related to military affairs, the Magistrate decided to change the charges accordingly.

Referring to the response received from the Army, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said, the detainees tried to "approach military sites" and "collect information" about them disguised as environmentalists.

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.”

The defendants were initially charged with espionage, while the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Intelligence, the sole department in the country responsible for espionage related affairs, had repeatedly insisted that there were no evidence indicating to the charges.

Meanwhile, several dissident websites, including Kalemeh, have listed the accused as Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Taher Qadirian and Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz.

In a letter to the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the families of the detained environmentalists said on September 18, 2018, "We beseech you to immediately order the release of our beloved ones and pave the way for a fair judicial process with access to legal counsel."

The letter, a copy of which was sent to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), also said, "We are wholeheartedly certain that our children have not committed the slightest wrongdoing, let alone the terrible crimes they have been accused of."

Khamenei has not responded to the letter, at least publicly, so far.