Iran continues to arrest environmentalists in intimidation campaign

Iranian authorities continue to arrest more environmental activists amid worsening crackdown on conservationists.

The state security forces arrested several environmental activists during the past days in the cities of Shahrekord, Sanandaj and Marivan and transferred them to unknown locations.

Iranian security agents arrested Yousef Farhadi Babadi, while he was returning home from a local funeral for a member of a reformist political party on February 17.

Farhadi is an environmental activist and member of the “Voice of Water Campaign” in Shahre Kord, capital city of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province.

The group’s Instagram account says it promotes the optimal use of water in Iran, which has suffered severe water shortages in recent years due to drought and mismanagement of water resources.

Three other activists, Zakaria Naghshbandi, Arman Vafaei and Shahou Faraji were arrested the same day in Sanandaj, in Kurdistan Province.
According to reports the officers who arrested the activists, searched their homes and confiscated some of their personal belongings such as mobile phones and tablets.

Meanwhile, the state security agents in the city of Marivan, arrested Iraj Rahimzadeh on February 18 and took him to an unknown location.

His family have not been informed of his fate or whereabouts.
Iranian rights groups also reported the arrest of environmentalist Sirwan Ghorbani in Kamyaran on February 12. They said Iranian security officers detained Ghorbani, a central council member of the Kurdistan National Unity Party, at his home.

The Iranian rights groups quoted sources as saying the officers who raided Ghorbani’s home put a sack over his head, seized some of his personal belongings and confiscated the mobile phone of his sister Samira Ghorbani, who fainted and had to be taken to a hospital. They said the agents also ordered Samira Ghorbani to report to a local information bureau in the coming days.

Iranian authorities detained at least 13 other environmental and civil activists in Kamyaran and Sanandaj in late December and in recent days extended their arrest for another month. A Jan. 7 report by the state-run news agency IRNA quoted Kurdistan provincial deputy security chief Hussein Khosheqbal as saying those detained had been engaged in “criminal activities” on behalf of environmental groups.

A recent Amnesty International report claimed the Iranian regime in 2018 arrested more than 7,000 rights defenders, in what was referred to as Iran’s “year of shame.” The organization highlighted that at least 63 environmental activists and researchers were detained, with some remaining in prison on dubious charges and without access to legal representation.

One high-profile example is the arrest in January 2018 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of nine Iranian conservationists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Following nationwide anti-government protests, Iranian authorities charged the nine individuals with espionage, claiming they were monitoring the country’s ballistic missile program using camera traps (remotely activated lenses typically used to film wild animals for research purposes).

The scientists are accused of collecting classified information about Iran’s “strategic projects” and that “at least five have been charged with ‘sowing corruption on earth,’ which carries the death penalty.” He added that “Tehran’s prosecutor general was quoted by Iranian state media [last month] as saying that the trial would take place soon, though he did not specify a date.”

Among those arrested was prominent environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami, who died under suspicious circumstances just weeks after being jailed. Iran’s judiciary holds that Seyed-Emami committed suicide, whereas an autopsy report allegedly shows that he sustained injuries all over his body and was injected with an unknown substance. Meanwhile, his wife has been barred from leaving the country.

Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdoreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz, have been on trial since last month on spying-related charges that their supporters say are bogus.

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