World Wildlife Fund “stands in solidarity” with researchers charged with alleged espionage
GLAND, Switzerland––The World Wildlife Fund “stands in solidarity with eight Iranian men and women on trial in Tehran this month on charges linked to their conservation work,” WWF announced from headquarters in Gland, Switzerland on February 22, 2019.
The World Wildlife Fund declaration comes four months after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued a similar statement.
Case ignored by most animal & habitat advocacy groups
WWF and the IUCN are still the only global animal and habitat advocacy organizations to have taken note of the plight of the Tehran Eight.
Thirteen months have elapsed since nine cheetah researchers and advocates, including the eight now on trial, were arrested by the Iranian Revolution Guard. The eight survivors have been held incommunicado, in isolation, ever since.
Conservationist died in custody
More than 12 months have passed since Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation founder Kavous Seyed-Emami, for whom the others worked or volunteered, mysteriously died in Revolutionary Guard custody.
Kavous Seyed-Emami and his wife Maryam Mombeini were both Canadian citizens, but Mombeini, while not formally arrested or charged with any offense, has not been allowed to leave Iran since her deceased husband was taken into custody.
Four of the surviving defendants were in January 2019 put on trial for their lives in a secret court for allegedly “sowing corruption on Earth.” The other four face also serious lesser charges, along with many other advocates for animals and habitat who have been detained by the Revolutionary Guard since the trial began.
None of the defendants have been allowed to choose their own lawyers. They are represented, to whatever extent they have any representation, by Revolutionary Guard appointees, before Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati, also known as “Iran’s hanging judge.”
The only “evidence” against any of the defendants so far appears to be a forced “confession” extracted from Niloufar Bayani, the only female defendant facing the death penalty. Bayani reportedly repudiated the confession during the first day of the trial, and has not been in court for three of the four trial dates since then.
The World Wildlife Fund spoke up for the Iranian cheetah scientists and advocates three weeks after former Iranian deputy environment chief Kaveh Madani, Voice of America correspondent Michael Lipin, and ANIMALS 24-7 called out the global environmental and animal advocacy communities for maintaining indifferent silence about the plight of the Tehran Eight.
Who are the Tehran Eight?
Those charged with “sowing corruption on Earth” include Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz.
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.
Jowkar and Gahdrian are members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature cat specialist group. The IUCN issued a statement on their behalf, and on behalf of the other Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation defendants, ten months after they were rounded up on January 24 and 25, 2018.
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.
World Wildlife Fund statement
Said the World Wildlife Fund statement of February 22, 2019, “It is understood that the charges [brought by the Revolutionary Guard] are linked to the use of conservation tools such as camera traps, which are alleged to have been used to undermine the national security interests of Iran.”
Elaborated World Wildlife Fund International director general Marco Lambertini, “We’re deeply concerned by the situation facing our conservation colleagues in Iran. They are highly regarded experts carrying out vital work in the country, including monitoring of the endangered Asiatic cheetah.
“Camera traps are a standard part of the conservationists’ toolkit, especially when trying to track such rare and elusive animals. They are essential in confirming sightings, informing conservation strategies and ultimately, preventing these creatures from disappearing forever.
“Together with conservation partners around the world, we stand by the innocence of these men and women,” Lambertini finished. “We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that they receive a fair and transparent trial that takes into account the practical realities of their work.”
Rediscovered cheetahs believed to have been extinct
Asiatic cheetahs were believed to have been extirpated from Iran until in June 2005 a camera trap deployed by the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society, placed in partnership with the Iranian Department of Environment, photographed an adult female and four cubs in an isolated part of the Dar-e Anjir Wildlife Refuge.
Formed by Kavous Seyed-Emami in 2008, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation took over management of the Iranian cheetah research project, identifying 82 individual cheetahs in 14 different protected habitats between December 2011 and November 2013.
News coverage of the sightings, however, embarrassed the Iranian regime. The major threats to the Iranian cheetah turned out to be government-sponsored development projects,
Conflict over military sites?
According to the opposition news web site Kalame, in a an April 16, 2018 report translated by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, “Although these regions were registered with the United Nations as protected areas, the Revolutionary Guard thought it could build military sites there without any problem. Thus it went ahead with installing missile silos and equipment. The move met opposition from environmental groups,” who “made clear that the Revolutionary Guard was endangering their activities to collect information and take photos of animals and plants for the United Nations.”
The Revolutionary Guard, Kalame said, “asked these groups to instead submit old photos in their annual reports to the United Nations. The conflict went on for years and eventually, the Revolutionary Guard used [alleged] espionage as an excuse to arrest the environmentalists so that it could continue its activities in the protected regions.”
Silence of the advocacy groups
Regardless of the embarrassment of the Revolutionary Guard, the international animal and habitat community should have been embarrassed after, as Lipin reported on February 1, 2019, “A Voice of America Persian review of seven major international conservation organizations found that only one of them,” the IUCN, had “posted a comment on their website about the plight of the Iranian conservationists.
“The six organizations whose websites did not contain statements about the Iranian conservationist,” Lipin continued, “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.
WWF & IUCN have now spoken, but no others
“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.
The World Wildlife Fund has now spoken.
But none of the others have. And neither have any international humane, animal welfare, or animal rights organizations commented, so far as ANIMALS 24-7 has been able to determine, either on behalf of the original Tehran Eight or the many others arrested more recently.
Seven more arrested
Among the recent arrestees, Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation staff member Pouria Sepahvand was on February 2, 2019 detained for an unknown reason, and is held at an unknown location.
Held since circa February 17, 2019 are environmentalists Yousef Farhadi Babadi, Zakaria Naghshbandi, Arman Vafaei and Shahou Faraji, who were apprehended in Kurdistan province; Iraj Rahimzadeh, arrested in the city of Marivan, on February 18; and Sirwan Ghorbani, identified as a central council member of the Kurdistan National Unity Party.
None of the others have been mentioned in connection with any political affiliation.
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