At a conference in Kyrgyzstan recently, I learnt about the plight of 8 Iranian conservation scientists detained in an Iranian prison since January, accused of undermining the national security interests of their country. The plight of these people struck at the core of my being, as they are people just like me; compassionate individuals who have been striving to make a difference in the conservation of Iran’s unique wildlife, namely Persian leopards and the critically endangered, Asiatic cheetah. I knew that this path required determination and sacrifice but never had I experienced a situation such as this where being a conservationist could ultimately threaten your life. The international conservation community needed to come together to support one of our own.
In an unprecedented display of unity, more than 340 conservationists and scholars from 70 countries across the world including UN Ambassador of Peace, Jane Goodall DBE did just that, signed a letter in the past week expressing support for the 8 conservationists jailed in Iran. The high-profile signatories, which range from academic scholars to NGO directors and practitioners working with a diversity of species and ecosystems, highlighted the global concern for the detained.
In January this year, Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz, Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, Sam Radjabi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, and Kavous Seyed Emami, were arrested and imprisoned, with Mr. Seyed Emami passing away during that period. Four of the detained are now charged with “sowing corruption on earth” which can carry the death penalty. These charges are in connection to the conservationists using camera traps, which Iranian authorities are concerned would be used to undermine the national security interests of Iran.
In the letter, the signatories emphasized that “all of the conservationists in question have dedicated their lives to the conservation of wildlife in Iran, including the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah” and expressed horror at the thought that scientists within “the neutral field of conservation could ever…..pursue political objectives”.
Last month, IUCN Director General Inger Andersen stressed that “IUCN is deeply alarmed by the charges against these dedicated women and men committed to protecting Iran’s rich natural environment and unique species and highlighted that “their work is of crucial importance to their country and its people, particularly at a time of severe environmental challenges in Iran. IUCN and its Commissions stand in solidarity with them.”
The signatories urged for “a fair and just evaluation of the evidence, access to lawyers of their choice and a transparent trial” and some offered to provide evidence and witness testimony.
Just today Science magazine published an article on the outpouring of support from the international conservation community:
Hoping for a fair and just trial for these scientists who have sacrificed so much.