As the trial for eight prominent Iranian environmentalists charged with “sowing corruption on earth,” and spying, intelligence agents are reportedly set to produce a new pseudo-documentary film against them.
The trial began January 30, a year after their arrests, behind closed doors at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, which is presided over by Judge Abolqassem Salavati. Rights activists say judge Salavati has a history of "issuing disproportionate and oppressive sentences" to human rights defenders.
The environmentalists were not allowed access to their own legal counsel and were instead forced to choose from a court approved list of defense attorneys.
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the relatives of the environmentalists have called for their immediate release, saying they have been tortured while in detention.
Half of the 300-page indictment was read in these sessions, all of which was based on the confessions of one of the eight defendants, Ms. Niloufar Bayani, a conservation scientist. Bayani interrupted the court multiple times to object, saying that her confessions were made under duress, are false, and that she has retracted them, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported.
Rights groups believe authorities may be attempting to film the defendants without their consent in staged settings for a propaganda film discrediting them. Films containing coerced confessions and false information smearing activists are increasingly common in Iran. They are aired on the monopolized state-run Radio and TV, IRIB.
CHRI cited an "informed source" as saying that plainclothes agents had transported
Ms. Bayani out of Evin Prison in Tehran to several locations in an affluent nearby town for a day and directed her to engage in specific acts while filming her without her consent.
“She was first taken to a beauty salon in the center of Tehran and offered a haircut; then to a luxury shopping mall in [the nearby town of] Lavasan and encouraged to go on a shopping spree,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, adding that Ms. Bayani refused to leave the car in both instances.
“She was then taken to a luxury villa in Lavasan and asked to step out of the car and take advantage of the fresh air and the amenities in the garden, which she also refused,” the source said.
“Upon needing to use the bathroom after several hours, she noticed that one of the plainclothes officers was filming her every move from behind a tree. She immediately retreated to the car. The convoy then stopped at a restaurant on the way back to Tehran and the officers had lunch, which she again refused,” the source said.
The source said Bayani was warned not to speak about the charges against her to anyone after her parents visited her in prison in November and they discussed her case. “Afterwards she did not get a visit for a while,” said the source.
The source also alleged plainclothes agents brought a film crew to the home of Maryam Mombeini, the widow of Iranian-Canadian environmentalist and academic Kavous Seyyed-Emami, who was arrested with the other eight conservationists last year and died under suspicious circumstances in February 2018 while held at Evin Prison. The source said the agents forced their way into her home and pressured her to make false statements about her late husband on camera while denying her access to a lawyer. She is now under a travel ban.
Seyyed-Emami’s death was officially ruled a suicide, but his relatives reject this explanation and demand a full investigation into his death.
“For the past year, Iran’s security apparatus has been colluding with judicial officials to cook up cases against these conservationists who’ve been denied the right to defend themselves,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi, adding, "Not only are the environmentalists being tried based on false ‘confessions,’ now we’ve also learned that agents staged scenes around them to support a false narrative,” Ghaemi added.
It is not known who ordered Ms. Bayani to be filmed while engaging in staged actions outside her cell or who ordered the raid on the Seyed-Emami home. Nevertheless, based on CHRI's latest report, human rights groups have documented several instances in which detainees held on politically motivated charges or their family members were featured in "pseudo-documentary videos" that contained false information, and which were produced by or in collusion with security agencies and then broadcast on state-run TV.
Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jokar, Ms. Sepideh Kashani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi, and Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, are members of local environmental group the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation established by Kavous Seyyed-Emami.
Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, has accused the environmentalists of “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”
Their cases went to trial despite the fact that several senior Iranian government officials have said their is no evidence the environmentalists were engaged in spying or any other illegal activity.
The defendants say they have been subjected to months of solitary confinement and psychological torture, including being threatened with death, being injected with hallucinogenic drugs, and that their family members’ lives have also been threatened.
Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, CHRI, and Human rights Watch (HRW), have called for the immediate and unconditional release of the eight, and for a thorough, swift and impartial investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.