Voice of America notices “the sounds of silence” from animal advocates
TEHRAN, Iran––If Iranian cheetah conservationists Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Morad Tahbaz, and Niloufar Bayani were pit bulls accused of “sowing corruption on earth,” facing the death penalty for killing someone, tens of thousands of animal advocates worldwide would long since have signed online petitions demanding their immediate release.
Ghadirian, Jowkar, Tahbaz, Bayani, four codefendants facing “only” long prison sentences, and another cheetah conservationist, arrested on February 2, 2019 on no charges yet specified, would together be known worldwide as the Tehran Nine.
Celebrities would be holding fundraising events for them.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Lexus Project, among other organizations, might be sending pro bono lawyers to represent them by the limousine load.
Lara Trump, the pit bull advocate daughter-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, would be Tweeting on their behalf.
“Crime” of having American friends
Instead, without having harmed anyone and without having violated any written law of Iran, so far as Iranian vice president Isa Kalantari and other elected legislators have been able to determine, Ghadirian, Jowkar, Tahbaz, and Bayani are on trial for their lives––and hardly anyone is saying anything about it.
On trial with them for alleged espionage are fellow cheetah conservationists Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
Accused of “conspiracy against national security” and having “contacts with enemy states” is Sam Rajabi, whose purported crime is having biologist friends in the United States.
Where is cheetah advocate detained on February 2, 2019?
All eight are staff members and volunteers for the Tehran-based Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, as is the February 2, 2019 arrestee, Pouria Sepahvand, who was detained for an unknown reason and is held at an unknown location.
The six men and two women now on trial are represented in court only by lawyers appointed by the prosecution. Arrested on January 24 and January 25, 2018 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, they have for more than a year been held incommunicado in reputedly one of the world’s bleakest prisons, their fate depending on the whim of Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati, also known as “Iran’s hanging judge.”
“Confession” extracted under torture
Three day-long sessions into their trial, Ghadrian, Jowkar, Tahbaz, and Bayani appear to be accused of spying on the Iranian missile and nuclear weapons program based solely on an alleged confession extracted from Bayani, the one woman among the four defendants facing death.
“Bayani interrupted the proceedings [during the first day of the trial] several times to assert that investigators extracted her confessions under mental and physical duress, and that she had since retracted them,” reported the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
“Iranian state media said several lawmakers met with President Hassan Rouhani as he visited parliament on February 4, 2019,” added Voice of America Persian correspondent Michael Lipin, “and urged him to ensure the eight conservationists on trial are granted legal protections, including a right to choose their own lawyers.
Iranian politicians spoke out––but not U.S.-based conservation orgs
“One of the lawmakers who met with Rouhani, Mohammad Reza Tabish, told the state-controlled news agency ISNA that they asked the president to be mindful of the concerns of human rights activists and other Iranians about the case against the conservationists,” Lipin added.
“Tabish said Rouhani responded by expressing hope that the defendants would get a fair trial. The lawmaker also said parliamentary speaker Ali Lairjani agreed to meet the families of the defendants at a future date.”
Radio Farda, the Radio Free Europe branch serving Iran and Iranian expatriates, confirmed the Voice of America report.
“I’m not seeing any attention to this case”
“Unfortunately, I’m not seeing any attention [to this case[ by [other] international media, or even by the environmentalists and conservationists of the world, whom I was expecting to be more active and to question what is happening and ask for justice,” former Iranian deputy environment department chief Kaveh Madani told Lipin.
Appointed to his Iranian environment department position in September 2017, Madani fled Iran in April 2018, Lipin reported, “under verbal attack from conservatives who accused him of spying under cover of environmental activism.”
Added Lipin, “A Voice of America Persian review of seven major international conservation organizations found that only one of them of has posted a comment on their website about the plight of the Iranian conservationists: the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In an October 26, 2018 online statement, the Switzerland-based organization declared its ‘solidarity’ with the eight detainees and said it was ‘deeply alarmed by the charges against these dedicated women and men committed to protecting Iran’s rich natural environment and unique species.’”
IUCN spoke for own members; others said nothing
Two of the cheetah advocates facing the death penalty, Ghadrian and Jowkar, are members of the IUCN cat specialist group. Founded in 1948 as an initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the IUCN is best known for maintaining an international Red List of endangered species.
“The six organizations whose websites did not contain statements about the Iranian conservationists include Conservation International, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wide Fund for Nature,” Lipin continued.
“Contacted by Voice of America Persian,” Lipin added, “Conservation International, Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy declined to comment. Friends of the Earth International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund did not immediately respond.
Humane, animal welfare, & animal rights groups also silent
“A Voice of America Persian analysis of the social media channels of the seven groups and those of 19 other international conservation organizations also found that none of them have commented on the issue since the start of this year,” Lipin finished.
Neither has any international humane, animal welfare, or animal rights organization commented on behalf of the Tehran Nine, so far as ANIMALS 24-7 has been able to determine.
One defendant died in prison
The Tehran Nine would be the Tehran 10, had Kavous Seyed-Emami survived.
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.”
Mombeini, a Canadian citizen, has not been allowed to return to Canada, “and has reportedly been subjected to repeated interrogations,” the Toronto newspaper National Post recently updated.
Tehran has no record on pit bulls
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, meanwhile, has no record on pit bulls, since officially there are none in Iran, and perhaps never have been, since imports of foreign-bred dogs into Iran have been forbidden since 1979.
But the theocratic Iranian government, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, has long sought to discourage keeping dogs of any sort.
Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi in January 2019 warned city residents via the state-controlled Young Journalists Club that his department “will take measures against people walking dogs in public spaces, such as parks.”
Further, said Rahimi, “It is forbidden to drive dogs around in cars and, if this is observed, serious police action will be taken against the car-owners in question.”
In effect, Tehran dogs must be confined to their owners’ homes.
But Tehran has long had bad record on dogs
Similar decrees have been issued many times in the past.
Explained BBC News, “Dogs are viewed as ‘unclean’ by Iran’s Islamic authorities, who also regard dog-ownership as a symbol of the pro-Western policy of the ousted monarchy. The Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance banned media from publishing any advertisements for pets or pet-related products back in 2010, and there was a push in parliament five years ago to fine and even flog dog-walkers.”
The Iranian government interpretation of dog-keeping as discouraged by Islamic law, while common among Islamicists, is actually at odds with the actual statements of the Prophet Mohammed, when read in historical context.