“Evidence” is reportedly “confession” extracted from female defendant under torture––who then retracted it
TEHRAN, Iran––The closed-door trial of eight Iranian cheetah researchers and conservationists for alleged “corruption on earth,” espionage, and “conspiracy against national security” is to resume on Saturday, February 2, 2019, and is expected to continue on Sunday, February 3, 2019.
All eight defendants are associated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Institute. All eight were arrested on January 24 and January 25, 2018 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and have been held incommunicado ever since at the Evin prison, editorially described by the Canadian newspaper National Post on February 1, 2019 as “a notorious dungeon for the theocratic regime’s political enemies––a torture chamber, a rape camp and a killing field for anyone who displeases the regime.”
One defendant died in prison
Kavous Seyed-Emami, 64, the Iranian/Canadian founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested with the eight defendants now on trial, but Iranian authorities on February 8, 2018 notified Sayed-Emami’s wife, Maryam Mombeini, that he had “committed suicide” in prison, allegedly by “strangulation.”
“A preliminary autopsy report that omitted his cause of death showed ‘bruises on different parts of the body and evidence of an injection on his skin,’” an attorney representing the Seyed-Emami family told the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
“No final autopsy report has been made public 12 months after his death,” the Center for Human Rights in Iran noted.
Maryam Mombeini, a Canadian citizen, has not been allowed to return to Canada, “and has reportedly been subjected to repeated interrogations,” the National Post mentioned.
Charges “patently absurd”
The eight surviving defendants are accused of using wildlife monitoring cameras, which have very limited focal range, to spy on the Iranian missile program.
The charges, the National Post pointed out, are “patently absurd,” since “Iran’s most high-value military targets, its missile complexes and nuclear facilities, are notoriously hardened, sometimes even buried underground,” opining that “A middle-aged environmentalist with a camera could not possibly glean any intelligence that satellite recon, drones, cyber warfare and professional spies could not, and presumably long since have.”
Civilian side of Iranian government agreed
The civilian side of the Iranian government long since agreed.
Iranian member of parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi on May 9, 2018 tweeted that during a meeting of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign affairs, in response to questions to the intelligence minister about the reasons for the crackdown on environmental activists, “the intelligence ministry’s counter-intelligence experts responded that they had found no evidence at all of their ties to espionage.”
Added Iranian vice president Isa Kalantari, who heads the national Department of Environment, “It has been determined that these individuals were detained without doing anything. The Intelligence Ministry has concluded that there is no evidence that these individuals were spies. The government’s fact-finding committee has concluded that the detained activists should be released.”
But Kalantri on October 22, 2018 told the Iranian Student News Agency that the Iranian elected government could no longer intervene in the case brought by the Revolutionary Guard against the eight living defendants.
Trial under “Iran’s hanging judge”
The eight learned on January 30, 2019 “that the first half of their indictment is based on one detainee’s retracted forced ‘confessions,’” reported the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
“Part of the 300-page indictment” was read to the defendants during the opening session of the trial,” the Center for Human Rights in Iran said.
The trial is reportedly underway at Branch 15 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, under Judge Abolqasem Salavati.
Salavati, summarizes Wikipedia, is “one of the judges whom human rights organizations have highlighted as being the instruments of a crackdown on journalists and political activists under the influence of Iran’s intelligence and security apparatus. Iranian human rights and political activists call him Iran’s Hanging Judge,” for having ordered the executions of at least six participants in June 2009 protests against the Iranian regime.
Defendant recanted “confession” in court
“During the reading of the indictment” against the eight cheetah conservationists, the Center for Human Rights in Iran account stated, “the defendant [who allegedly ‘confessed’ to the charges against her] interrupted several times and objected that her ‘confessions’ had become the basis for the trial.”
The Center for Human Rights in Iran cited a source said to have knowledge of the court session, who spoke to CHRI “on the condition of anonymity.”
The female defendant, said the source, “said the ‘confessions’ had been made under physical and mental torture and intense psychological pressure and that she had retracted all of them after the first round of investigations.
“When the defendant persisted, the judge warned her to stop her objections,” the anonymous source added, “but after she continued to object, she was allowed to talk for a few minutes about the coerced nature of the confessions and the surrounding circumstances.
“No witnesses or evidence”
“In the first 150 pages of the indictment,” according to the anonymous source, “no witnesses or evidence were presented by the judicial authorities to prove their case. So far it seems that the court is entirely relying on false confessions, which these individuals have repeatedly retracted because of the circumstances in which they were extracted.”
“The environmentalists were summoned to the court,” affirmed attorney Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. Aghasi was retained to represent one of the defendants, Sam Rajabi, but “was not present in court as the state designated its own hand-picked lawyers to represent the defendants,” IRNA said.
Facing the charge of “corruption on earth,” which can carry the death penalty in Iran, are three men and one woman.
Identities of the accused
The men are Taher Ghadirian, a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature cat specialist and bear specialist groups; Houman Jowkar, also a member of the IUCN cat specialist group; and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian/American director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.
The woman is Niloufar Bayani, who joined the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation in June 2017. Bayani was previously a project advisor under the disaster risk reduction portfolio of the United Nations Environment Program, according to the UNEP web site.
Accused of espionage are Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation members Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
Accused of “conspiracy against national security” and having “contacts with enemy states,” specifically the U.S., is Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation member Sam Rajabi.
“The parents of some of the defendants went to the courthouse today, but were not allowed inside to see their children,” Rajabi’s mother Lili Houshmand Afshar told the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
The trial began six days after the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that “Iran’s judicial officials have been working closely with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization to build cases against [the eight defendants] based on false confessions obtained under extreme duress.
“A source with detailed knowledge of the cases told CHRI,” the center said in a prepared statement, “that some of the conservationists ‘were subjected to months of solitary confinement and psychological torture, threatened with death, threatened with being injected with hallucinogenic drugs, threatened with arrest and the death of family members.
“Some of the detainees were also physically beaten up, all to force them to give false confessions against themselves.”
The defendants were said to “have no clue about what is happening outside, and express their immense stress of isolation,” while continuing “to voice their innocence.”