Detained Iranian environmentalist says she was tortured

After a year behind bars, eight Iranian environmentalists appeared in court with the presence of court-approved lawyers.

al-monitor Niloufar Bayani is shown in this undated photo. Photo by Twitter/@Omid_M.

Feb 4, 2019

A year has passed since Iran arrested a number of environmentalists over accusations of spying and other serious crimes. The arrests shocked the Iranian activist community and tightened even further the boundaries of what activists assumed was safe work in a nonpolitical and nonpartisan field. With the court proceedings barely moving and minimal access to their lawyers in addition to accusations of torture, Iranian parliamentarians are pressuring President Hassan Rouhani to address their case.

After months of scarce news, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, a lawyer for two of the environmentalists, announced Jan. 29 that all eight of the defendants had been summoned to court for the second time in the year they have been detained before Judge Abolqasem Salavati, who is known to hand down harsh sentences to activists. Four environmentalists have been indicted on charges of corruption on Earth, which carries the death penalty; three have been charged with spying; and one has been charged with taking actions against national security. Originally all had been charged with spying, but a few months later the charges changed to the more serious corruption on Earth — a process Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, spokesman for the judiciary, defended to reporters as ordinary and “not a new issue.”

Aghasi was not invited to this second court date, which took place behind closed doors. The defendants were all represented by three “court-approved” lawyers who are retired prosecutors. Katayoun Radjabi, sister of environmentalist Sam Radjabi, criticized the process and specifically one of the judges for claiming that all of the defendants had their lawyers present. Judge Salavati had previously asked Radjabi to drop his lawyer and pick a lawyer from the court-approved list.

The lack of access to their preferred lawyers was not the only controversy to stem from their second court appearance. During the court session, environmentalist Niloufar Bayani reportedly told Judge Salavati that her statements to interrogators were given under duress and that she had been threatened and tortured.

The court case has also revealed a deeper power struggle within the Islamic Republic. The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which operates under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, arrested the environmentalists. The Ministry of Intelligence, which operates under Rouhani, has reportedly distanced itself from the case when discussing it with administration officials. A number of Iranian parliament members have told Iranian media that officials from the Ministry of Intelligence “are opposed” to views that see the environmentalists as spies.

With the IRGC and the judiciary pushing the cases against the environmentalists, family members and members of parliament have sought out the help of Rouhani and Speaker Ali Larijani. Mohammad Reza Tabesh, head of parliament’s environmental fraction, told Iranian media Feb. 4, “The families of the environmentalists have requested a meeting … this has been agreed to, and we are waiting to determine the time of the meeting.” He added that both Rouhani and Larijani have “expressed hope that the charges of the accused are addressed in an environment that is just and fair.” One of the requests, according to Tabesh, is allowing the defendants to choose their own lawyers.

In other news, in a speech to judiciary officials Feb. 4, head of judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, in discussing the pardon of 50,000 individuals for the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, claimed that Iran did not have any “political prisoners.”

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