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Iran: Cheetah researchers jailed for spying

November 21, 2019

A group of environmentalists who used cameras to track endangered animals have been sentenced to prison for spying. The case has been widely criticized as unjust — and a chilling signal to scientists.

Asiatic cheetah
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi

Six of eight Iranian wildlife conservationists charged with spying for foreign countries have been sentenced to between four and 10 years by a closed door revolutionary court, local media reported Wednesday.

The group from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation was arrested in January 2018, drawing international condemnation from conservation groups and scientists. 

The managing director of the foundation, dual-Canadian national Kavous Seyed-Emami, was also arrested at the time but the judiciary said he died by suicide in prison. His family has called for an independent investigation.

Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Taher Ghadirian and Hooman Jokar received eight years, and Amirhossein Khaleghi and Sepideh Kashani each got six years, according to reports. 

The verdicts of Sam Rajabi and Alireza Kohpayeh, two other defendants in the case, will be communicated to lawyers next week.

Tahbaz is an Iranian-US dual citizen.

The group was originally arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' intelligence wing for allegedly using the wildlife organization as a cover for military espionage.

The wildlife experts had been using cameras to monitor endangered species, including the Asiatic cheetah and Persian leopard. Use of cameras to track endangered species is a common tool.

Charges against four of them for "corruption on Earth" — a charge that carries the death penalty — were dropped last month.

According the human rights group Amnesty International, there is evidence the conservationists were subject to torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions. 

cw/stb (Reuters)

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