In the latest in a series of crackdowns on environmental activists in Iran, six people have been arrested in Shiraz. The Intelligence Ministry detained Sudabeh Haghighat, Noora Pourmoradian, Elaheh Samizadeh, Ehsan Mahboub Rahvafa, Navid Bazmandegan and his wife Bahareh Ghaderi on September 15 and 16.
In the past, it has been routine for the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Agency to prosecute, arrest and interrogate environmental activists, but because the activists are Baha’is, this time the arrests were conducted by the Intelligence Ministry, which is responsible for matters regarding the religious minority.
Among the six arrests, the case of married couple Navid Bazmandegan and Bahareh Ghaderi has stood out and commanded the greatest media attention. According to Iran Human Rights Monitor (HRM), after agents searched their home, they took the pair to an unknown location, despite the fact that their five-year-old daughter Darya is suffering from cancer and still needs their care post-treatment.
The charges against the six detainees remain unknown. A wave of arrests targeting environmentalists started about six months ago. Since then, more than 50 people have been arrested. At the time of the first arrests, Isa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency, announced that President Rouhani had appointed a panel of four, including ministers of justice, the interior and intelligence, as well as his own deputy in legal affairs, to investigate the arrests.
But in the end not much has been accomplished. The panel announced that it had found no reason for the arrests and “naturally,” it said, the detained would be released soon. This has been the only action Rouhani’s administration has taken to protect the environmentalists so far.
“Suicide” in Prison
Kavous Seyed Emami, a notable Iranian sociologist, university professor and environmentalist, was arrested on January 24, 2018, and died in suspicious circumstances in prison two weeks later. Authorities stated that he had committed suicide but offered no convincing evidence for their claim. Instead, they banned his wife Maryam Mombini from traveling abroad.
The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Agency has announced that the arrested environmentalists had been charged with “espionage,” “stealing important military information” and “taking pictures with professional cameras and sending them to the enemies” of the Islamic Republic. None of these charges have been proven and, in addition to Isa Kalantari, even Rouhani’s intelligence minister has denied the charges are applicable to the arrested environmentalists.
Isa Kalantari told the press that the cameras the Revolutionary Guards claim had been used for espionage are not suitable for recording anything accurately beyond 20 meters, saying that they cannot “even distinguish between a camel and a cheetah.” Following this, Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, criticized Kalantari for interfering in the affairs of the judiciary and accused him of lacking enough information.
Office of Supreme Leader Refuses to Help
Following the disagreement between the two officials, the families of the arrested environmentalists wrote a letter to the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, expressing their disbelief at the charges that had been brought, and asking him to ensure that the detained would be treated justly. But Khamenei’s office brushed them off. “This case belongs to the judiciary and this office cannot interfere,” it stated.
The latest reports indicate that, in addition to the six who were arrested in Shiraz, at least eight of the arrested environmentalists are still in prison. According to Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, the lawyer for two of them, the investigation phase of the case is over and the detainees have maintained their innocence. Nevertheless, they remain behind bars and there is no news of their release.
Not long ago, in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Isa Kalantari again quoted Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi as saying that the arrested environmentalists were not spies and that their cases would be decided by the end of the summer, although none of them had been officially indicted. Following this, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the judiciary spokesman, told a news conference that five of the detained had been indicted and their case has been sent to court.
The ongoing inconsistencies between the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Agency, the suspicious death of Seyed Emami, the impotence of the Rouhani government (which used to boast that it was a pro-environment administration), and the unwillingness of the Supreme Leader’s office to involve itself, have fanned further worries about the fate of the jailed activists. And now six more have been arrested, and could face even harsher treatment. The six are not only environmentalists, but also Baha’is — and under the Islamic Republic, being a Baha’i is enough to be found guilty of a range of crimes. Being environmentalists on top of this will not help make their situation any easier.