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