GENEVA (23 February 2018) – Iran must cease what appears to be a new and worrying trend of targeting environmental defenders, UN human rights experts* said following the detention of Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) members on spying charges. One has died in custody.
“We are concerned that Iranian authorities now seem to be arresting and investigating peaceful scientific activists for their invaluable conservationist work. It is hard to fathom how working to preserve the Iranian flora and fauna can possibly be linked to conducting espionage against Iranian interests,” said the experts, calling for their immedate release and for the charges to be dropped.
One of those arrested, Kavous Seyed Emami, the founder and director of the PWHF, died in custody after his arrest on 24 January. Authorities informed his family on 10 February that he had committed suicide while in the high-security Evin prison.
“Mr Emami’s death is extremely disturbing. Not only was he arrested on flimsy charges, but his death in custody strongly suggests foul play. The Iranian authorities must urgently allow a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into the circumstances and causes of Mr. Emami’s death,” the experts said.
Seven other environmentalists from the group have also been arrested on espionage charges.
“The detention and punishment of environmentalists for their work to conserve and protect the natural environment cannot be justified,” the experts said. “Nowhere in the world, including Iran, should conservation be equated to spying or regarded as a crime. Detention of human rights defenders for their work is arbitrary in nature.”
They also pointed to reported concerns about due process during the arrest and detention of the environmental human rights defenders. It was still not clear if the detained activists have been afforded effective and unhindered access to legal counsel and have been granted other due process rights.
The experts have been in contact with the Government of Iran about the situation.
(*) Mr. John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.