A former Iranian deputy environment chief is criticizing the global environmental community’s lack of public advocacy on behalf of eight jailed Iranian conservationists whose trial began in Tehran this week.

Kaveh Madani, an American-educated water conservation expert, served as deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment from September 2017 until April 2018, when he fled the country under verbal attack from conservatives who accused him of spying under cover of environmental activism.

In an interview with VOA Persian on Thursday, Madani, now a senior fellow at Yale University in the U.S. state of Connecticut, said he was “very disappointed” with international reaction to the treatment of the Iranian conservationists, who also faced accusations of spying when Tehran detained them in January 2018. Madani has praised the six men and two women of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation as experts in their field with good reputations nationally and internationally.

Little international attention

“Unfortunately, I’m not seeing any attention (to this case) by the 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,” Madani said.

A VOA 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 (IUCN). In an Oct. 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.”

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, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Contacted by VOA Persian on Friday, Conservation International, Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy declined to comment on the situation of the Iranian conservationists. Friends of the Earth International, WCS and WWF did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A VOA 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.

“We should care about those people whose hearts are beating for the environment no matter where they are from,” Madani said. “What is happening in Tehran can happen in other parts of the world and it is our responsibility to protect each other and back up one another.”

Closed-door trial

Iranian state media reported that the eight conservationists, Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi and Morad Tahbaz, appeared in a Tehran court Wednesday for a first closed-door session of their trial.

The state-controlled Fars News Agency referred to the defendants as “individuals accused of spying on the country’s military installations.” State news agency IRNA said four of the conservationists have been charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” a crime punishable by death. It said three other activists were charged with “espionage” and the last one with “conspiracy against national security.”

A report published Wednesday by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) quoted a source “with knowledge of the court session” as saying prosecutors read half of a more than 300-page indictment to the defendants. The CHRI source said most of the unveiled material was based on forced confessions of a female defendant whom the source said interrupted the proceedings several times to assert that investigators extracted her statements under mental and physical duress and she had since retracted them.

Speaking to VOA Persian via Skype on Wednesday, Iranian lawyer Mohamad Hossein Aghasi said judicial authorities had not permitted him to be present in the courtroom to represent defendant Sam Rajabi, his client. Aghasi said he received no word from the judiciary barring him from representing Rajabi or informing him that Rajabi had chosen another lawyer. Iranian state media said several court-approved lawyers represented the defendants in the trial instead.

Madani, the former deputy Iranian environment chief, told VOA Persian he was not surprised to hear the reports about one defendant’s purported forced confessions and another defendant’s lawyer not being allowed to participate in the trial.

“As in many national security cases in Iran, I assume this one would not be necessarily involve a due process,” he said. “I don’t know how real justice would be applied in their case, that is what I’m worried about.”


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