Appeals Court Upholds Baseless Prison Sentences Against Wildlife Conservationists

Prison Terms Range from 4-10 Years Based on No Evidence and False “Confessions”

February 18, 2020 – The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) condemns the Iranian appeals court’s decision to uphold lengthy prison sentences against eight wildlife conservationists detained since January 2018 without due process on charges that were refuted by three major Iranian state agencies including the Intelligence Ministry.

“Iran’s judiciary and Revolutionary Guards have declared conservation a crime by sentencing these peaceful wildlife conservationists to lengthy prison terms for doing their jobs,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“These sentences followed sham prosecutions that proceeded without any evidence of wrongdoing and were based on false ‘confessions’ extracted under torture,” Ghaemi said. “The appeals court’s decision to uphold these sentences makes a mockery of the Iranian justice system.”

“These sentences are also a blow to wildlife conservation at a time when Iran desperately needs wildlife and climate experts to help guide the government out of the country’s environmental crisis that mismanagement and climate change have produced,” Ghaemi added.

The sentences announced by Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmaili at a press conference in Tehran on February 18, 2020, are as follows:

Amir Hossein Khaleghi: 6 Years

Abdolreza Kouhpayeh: 4 Years

Houman Jowkar: 8 Years

Morad Tahbaz: 10 Years

Niloufar Bayani: 10 Years

Sam Rajabi: 6 Years

Sepideh Kashani: 6 Years

Taher Ghadirian: 8 Years

“Instead of jailing peaceful conservationists, Iran’s government should be putting resources into saving its endangered species,” said Ghaemi.

Background Info:

In January 2018, nine conservationists, all current and former staff members of the Tehran-based Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), were imprisoned by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization.

The conservationists’ imprisonment on charges brought by the IRGC’s intelligence organization has been widely condemned by international environmentalist and human rights organizations including the UN and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall among 131 other conservationists.

Their cases has been marked by documented denials of due process including denial of access to lawyers of their choice, forced false “confessions,” as well as prolonged interrogations and solitary confinement.

In November 2019, the United Nations Environment Program strongly criticized the Iranian authorities’ decision to respond to “legitimate conservation efforts of environmentalists by criminalizing their actions.”

Less than three weeks after being detained, PWHF managing director Kavous Seyed-Emami, a professor of sociology and war veteran who was also a Canadian citizen, died under suspicious circumstances while held for interrogations in Evin Prison. The Iranian authorities have never allowed an independent investigation into his death, which they claimed was a suicide after barring his family from conducting an independent autopsy.

Seyed-Emami’s PWHF colleagues remained imprisoned for two years—and his widow banned from leaving Iran until October 2019—while the IRGC and prosecution pursued a case against the conservationists on trumped-up espionage charges.

The prosecution continued even after the country’s Intelligence Ministry and Supreme National Security Council publicly refuted the IRGC’s claim that the conservationists had committed espionage.