Bring the Iranian Environmentalists Home

Bring the Iranian Environmentalists Home

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Andrew Cronson started this petition to Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Mohammad Javad Zarif and

In January of 2018, eight members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation were detained in Iran over charges that they were using camera traps (normally used to monitor endangered species) to spy on Iranian military installations. To date, Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi, and Morad Tahbaz have remained in Iran's Elvin Prison where they have remained since in solitary confinement. Four of the detainees are also American citizens.

Environmental stewardship is a proud value of the Iranian nation, and their lands are fortunate to have an abundance of majestic wildlife that are unique. One of the particular animals they were studying was the Asiatic cheetah. These cheetahs are extremely difficult to spot in the wild, so their researchers used specialized cameras that are motion-activated as the best method to monitor the population count. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that it has been the singular effective source of information-gathering for the Asiatic cheetah. It is estimated that there are less than 50 remaining in existence.

The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation is an NGO. It was founded in 2008 and since its inception, has worked in collaboration with Iran’s Department of Environment. It is regarded as Iran's most prominent nongovernmental organization focused on the environment whose mission is to study and work to protect the endangered animals found in Iran. They have been described by as passionate champions of the natural world with an apolitical agenda of conservation and scientific research.

In November of 2018, the charges of the eight Persian Wildlife Heritage detainees were raised in Iran’s judiciary courts system to a potential death penalty sentence or an indefinite prison sentence at the least. The United Nations Environment Programme has been monitoring their situation and has raised concern that they were not given adequate legal representation or an independent, fair trial. There have been reports of extortion and torture to extract coerced, possibly false confessions in spite of a committee formed by Iran's own government which concluded their investigation in May 2018. At that time there was no evidence that suggested spying, and indeed, the committee recommended releasing the detainees. 

While the death penalty was dropped in October of 2019, the detainees are still being charged with espionage which the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, Iranian Department of Environment, and Supreme National Security Council have refuted. The members have been given sentences of 6-10 years in a prosecution which has been condemned worldwide as a gross injustice of their human rights.

More than 330 noted conservationists and scholars from around the world, including distinguished primatologist and United Nations Messenger of Peace, Jane Goodall, have backed the group as being innocent. The World Wildlife Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society have also defended that their use of cameras in the wild is commonplace by scientists worldwide. 

This imprisonment has taken its toll on the conservationists; two of the prisoners initiated a hunger strike in August of 2019 and one is believed to have terminal cancer and is not receiving proper treatment for it. An affiliated researcher is believed to have taken his own life shortly after being captured. These prisoners have been separated from their families and those they care about for over two years.

It is now 2021, more than three years later. These conservationists remain imprisoned, away from their families and no closer to being freed than when they were first arrested over 1,000 days ago. Regardless of the intentions of the Iranian government for their capture or motives for keeping them there, it is very obvious to the global community that these conservationists must be freed. Environmental conservation and climate change affect all of us regardless of religion or race--belief or disbelief. 

The very work they are doing is paramount to ensuring that the ecosystem remains intact to preserve balanced food chains. By losing species like the Asiatic cheetah to extinction, it irreparably effects the delicate web of relationships in the natural world that protects humans from novel pathogens like COVID-19. In fact, a 2013 study posted in the preeminent journal "Science" discovered that there are more than 320,000 completely unknown viruses in mammals that could cause a pandemic if spread to humans.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called publicly for a comprehensive swap of Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. and all Americans held in Iran. They are open to negotiations, and are ready to release those that are in custody. There are currently no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has never been more critical to see that these conservationists are freed. Ensuring human rights is an issue that transcends political ideologies. It is up to us as concerned citizens to press for their release. We must be their voice as they are currently voiceless.

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