UN tells Iran to re­spect work of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists after prison death

The Guardian - - WORLD - Jonathan Watts Saeed Ka­mali De­hghan

The UN has urged the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment to re­spect the work of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists fol­low­ing the death in cus­tody last week of a wildlife cam­paigner, Kavous Seyed Emami.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion Seyed Emami founded, the Per­sian Wildlife Her­itage Foun­da­tion, re­main in jail and the deputy head of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Kaveh Madani, was de­tained for 72 hours over the week­end.

The ju­di­ciary said Seyed Emami, an Ira­nian-Cana­dian pro­fes­sor, was a Mos­sad agent who killed him­self in prison, though his fam­ily dis­pute this and have filed a com­plaint. He was buried on Mon­day. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has also pressed Iran for an­swers about the death of one of its dual-na­tional cit­i­zens.

Iran says Seyed Emami and his as­so­ciates used sur­veys of en­dan­gered Asi­atic chee­tahs as a pre­text for spy­ing in strate­gi­cally sen­si­tive ar­eas.

No ev­i­dence for these al­le­ga­tions has been pre­sented, prompt­ing con­cerns that the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards may have tar­geted the wildlife group be­cause many of its mem­bers are dual na­tion­als who were ed­u­cated in the west and have con­nec­tions with in­ter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion groups.

The UN En­vi­ron­ment head, Erik Sol­heim, said: “En­vi­ron­men­tal rights are hu­man rights, and we all have an obli­ga­tion to pro­tect them. We are closely fol­low­ing these cases in Iran and urge that the work of en­vi­ron­ment de­fend­ers – both in Iran and around the world – be pro­moted and re­spected.”

Among those de­tained for the past few weeks is Nilo­u­far Bayani, who was re­search fel­low with the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety who sup­ported UN En­vi­ron­ment projects in Afghanistan, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, Su­dan and Haiti. She re­turned to Iran, her birth­place, last June to join the Per­sian Wildlife Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

An­other is a US-Ira­nian busi­ness­man, Mo­rad Tah­baz, who was a CEO of the group. Sources who worked with Seyed Emami said the wildlife group could be a vic­tim of Iran’s po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence as the en­vi­ron­ment rises up the agenda and be­comes a fo­cus of feud­ing be­tween ri­val groups.

Con­cerns about drought trig­gered re­cent na­tion­wide protests that mor­phed into de­mands for an end to the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of cler­ics in Iran.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have come un­der pres­sure. On Sun­day, an Ira­nian MP, Mah­moud Sadeghi, said Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion agency, had been de­tained. Last year the Ira­nian pres­i­dent, Has­san Rouhani, plucked him from Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don to show the gov­ern­ment has jobs for Ira­ni­ans liv­ing abroad.

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