Iranian wildlife researchers sentenced for spying

Cheetahs are endangered also in Iran.

By VF/DW/cw/stb/Reuters - 20. November 2019

A group of environmentalists who used camera-traps to track, monitor and research endangered wildlife like Cheetahs and Snow Leopards in Iran have been sentenced to long prison sentences for spying. The case has been widely criticized as unjust and sends a chilling signal to scientists.

With the growing militarization of foreign and national wildlife conservation groups, the suspicion that some of the researchers might have a hidden agenda is not far fetched and follows a similar pattern, where intelligence operatives travelled under the disguise of being journalists. Many innocent journalists were killed and many more arrested because the spy agencies of different countries do not shy away from suspecting and permeating journalist, aid and now also wildlife circles in their quest to maintain the upper hand.

Epecially U.S. American intelligence operations are also often linked to economic espionage. Numerous videos on the internet bear evidence where e.g. USAmerican geologists conducted surveys for minerals etc. under the cover of being war-journalists or social workers employed by humanitarian organizations. When such geologists then boast later about their illegal surveys into no-go-zones on Youtube, it is no wonder that local authorities grow more and more suspicious.

It takes trained counter-intelligence to distiguish between genuine and fake researchers, journalists and aid-workers, which - as qualification - might have not been given in this case in Iran and could be the reason why the court sentenced the whole group. It is, however, unlikely that all members of the group were involved in spying, if at all, because it takes many years of experience and indepth knowledge of wildlife ecology as well as determination and stamina to conduct such wildlife surveys in remote and often difficult terrains successfully and for the benefit of the species as well as local communities. 

Unlike the real covered operatives employed by embassies or the United Nations, wildlife researchers do regularly not carry diplomatic passports - shielding them from arrest - and can therefore easily be framed for a variety of reasons, especially if they establish good conduct with a community of Indigenous peoples or local communities critical to a given government and the powers-that-be. Especially, if widllife researchers also work against poaching and thereby step on the toes of a strongman or organzied crime group with governmental ties, false accusations are already the norm to get them out of an area.

Six of the eight Iranian wildlife conservationists were charged with spying for foreign countries and have now 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-Iranian 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. 

Tahbaz is an Iranian-US dual citizen.

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

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 camera-traps to track endangered species is a common, professional tool and such equipment is not outlawed anywhere in the world.

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. 

It is, however, the duty of the authorities as well as of professional associations to establish proper credentials for wildlife researchers like it is done now regularly for journalists in order to avert wrong accusations.

Iran sentences eight conservationists convicted of spying

By  - 26. November 2019

  • A court in Tehran last week delivered a guilty verdict in the case of eight Iranian conservationists accused of spying, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years.
  • The eight were all affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a Tehran-based conservation organization that works to save the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and other species. The charges appear to be related to allegations that the conservationists used wildlife camera traps for the purpose of espionage.
  • The eight conservationists have been imprisoned since their arrests in January 2018. A colleague arrested at the same time died in custody.
  • Rights groups and conservation organizations have condemned the verdict, alleging serious flaws in the judicial process.

A court in Tehran last week delivered a guilty verdict in the case of eight Iranian conservationists accused of spying, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years. The eight were all affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), a Tehran-based conservation organization that works to save the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and other species.

PWHF founder Morad Tahbaz and program manager Niloufar Bayani both received 10-year sentences, while cheetah researcher Houman Jowkar and biologist Taher Ghadirian were sentenced to eight years each. Coordinator Sepideh Kashani, big cat conservationist Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi and former PWHF staffer Sam Radjabi received six years, while Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, a conservationist and wildlife photographer, received four years.

Eight conservationists affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation were recently convicted of spying in Iran. Top row, from left: Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar and Sepideh Kashani. Bottom row, from left: Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Radjabi and Morad Tahbaz. Images courtesy of AnyHopeForNature.

The conservationists have been imprisoned since their arrests in January 2018. PWHF’s volunteer managing director, Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian-Iranian sociology professor, was arrested at the same time. He died the following month in Evin Prison in Tehran. Iranian authorities claimed the death was a suicide and have not permitted an independent investigation, according to Seyed-Emami’s family.

Four of the group had faced charges of “sowing corruption on earth,” which can carry the death penalty, but these were dropped in October. According to New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch, the eight were ultimately convicted of “collaborating with the enemy state of the United States.” The charges appear to be related to allegations that the conservationists used wildlife camera traps for the purpose of espionage.

The sentences, handed down on Nov. 20 and 23, came amid a sweeping internet blackout and protests around the country, precipitated by an increase in fuel prices. The Center for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group based in New York, reported that the eight were given the verdicts verbally, rather than in writing, which it described as “a common practice in politically motivated cases in Iran.”

A close relative of one of the jailed PWHF staff who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation told Mongabay that the conservationists and their supporters were reacting to the verdicts with “despair, and yet determination.” The relative noted that the conservationists have 20 days to lodge an appeal. “From the conservation community, we hope to see very strong reactions,” the relative said. “This is now a conviction and no longer a projected outcome, which was something that some parts of the conservation community was waiting for to react on. Here it is. This could be any one of them working to save our planet … This should be a real serious alarm.”

The Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation’s late managing director, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in prison shortly after his arrest in January 2018. Image courtesy of the Seyed-Emami family.

Foreign and domestic responses

The group’s jailing in 2018 met with international criticism, and news of the verdict and sentences sparked a fresh outcry from human rights and conservation organizations, including the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, Human Rights Watch, and the IUCN.

“Sentencing innocent wildlife conservationists to long jail sentences in the absence of evidence is a travesty of justice and a violation of multiple human rights,” said David Boyd, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, in a statement emailed to Mongabay. “In the context of a global biodiversity crisis the work of these conservationists should be admired, not condemned. An appeal should be expedited and their sentences should be overturned.”

The secretary-general of the Geneva-based human rights NGO the International Commission of Jurists, Sam Zarifi, said that while his group hadn’t been able to monitor the case due to access restrictions, it did appear there were flaws in the judicial process. “Based on publicly available material, their trial at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court suffered from serious due process problems, including defendants’ lack of access to lawyers of their choosing, lack of access to the indictment and underlying evidence, and claims by the defendants that they were tortured in order to provide false confessions,” Zarifi told Mongabay by email.

“There is no publicly available indication that the defendants’ claims were investigated properly. So looking at this case from the outside — which is unfortunately as close as we can get — their trial doesn’t seem to have been a fair or credible process,” he said.

A critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), of which only 50 remain, all of them in Iran. Image by Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0).

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a statement voicing deep concern and calling for clemency. UNEP also confirmed that convicted PWHF program manager Bayani had been a UNEP consultant between 2012 and 2017. Bayani and PWHF founder Tahbaz, a successful businessman, were reportedly also charged with “gaining illegitimate income,” with Bayani reportedly ordered by the court to repay the salary she had earned consulting with UNEP.

The case has also raised questions domestically. In November 2018, more than 1,100 conservationists in Iran signed an open letter addressed to the head of the judiciary. They emphasized that over some 20 years of professional interactions the detained conservationists were only known “for serving [their] country and trying their best to protect its nature.”

Senior government officials have gone on record saying that investigations had failed to turn up evidence that the detained were spies.

Political connections

While no evidence has been made public, one key line of pursuit during interrogations was reportedly the link between PWHF and the founder of the world’s largest big cat conservation organization, Panthera, headquartered in New York. PWHF staff occasionally worked alongside experts from Panthera, using camera traps to monitor cheetah populations. The conservation community has spoken out strongly against the notion that low-quality motion-sensor camera traps could serve any espionage purpose.

The founder of Panthera, U.S. billionaire Thomas Kaplan, is active in and provides funding to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a New York-based lobby group that advocates for tough sanctions and regime change in Iran. The group pushed for the U.S. to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which it did in May 2018.

In late 2017, PWHF staff reportedly sought to distance themselves from Panthera following a speech by Kaplan that comprised his first major public show of support for UANI. A letter from PWHF to Panthera voiced “alarm and consternation” at his political activities. Panthera has issued no response to the arrests or verdict and did not respond to requests from Mongabay for comment.

Conservation work

PWHF’s central mission was the conservation of the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah. Just 50 remain in the world, all of them in Iran. Jowkar, the jailed PWHF cheetah researcher, led the latest IUCN assessment of the species, in 2008. He, Ghadirian and Khaleghi Hamidi were members of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, and PWHF had been instrumental in highlighting the plight of the species through a project funded by Iran’s Department of Environment and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

The jailed conservationists also worked to protect other species and to raise awareness on environmental issues in a country beset by drought. Ghadirian, PWHF’s consultant on large mammals from 2014 to 2017, undertook population surveys of leopards, wolves and bears using camera traps, tracking, urine and other signs. He worked with herders to find solutions to human-animal conflict.

On one of the few phone calls permitted to loved ones from prison, Ghadirian reportedly asked what was going on in his absence with a project on Baluchistan bears (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus), a critically endangered subspecies of the Asian black bear. He and another biologist had been working in southern Iran to raise awareness of the importance of conserving the species, reduce human-bear conflict and livestock depredation, and push for the establishment of wildlife corridors and a protected area.

A Baluchistan bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) in Iran. The bears are a critically endangered subspecies of the Asian black bear. Image by Ruholah.ahmadi via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

David Garshelis, a bear specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and member of the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group, said the research was showing real promise. “Before they started, it wasn’t actually clear that there were still bears in this area,” he said.

“[Ghadirian] was very concerned about both sides of the equation, both people and bears,” and sought to address conservation issues holistically, said Garshelis. “He was in elementary schools giving programs, then talking to people in the field — he was trying to address it from every possible level.”

Garshelis said he had hoped to visit and work with Ghadirian on the bear project. “We were thinking things might ease up, sometime in the future,” he said.

In addition to the jail time, the eight are all reportedly banned from working in the conservation sector for two years from the conclusion of their sentences.

A landscape in the Turkmen Sahra region of northeastern Iran. Image by Alireza Javaheri via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

 

Video: Protest Movements in Iran

By South Front - 20. November 2019

Iran has been swept by protests since November 15th, with banks, stores and gas stations being set on fire. So far, more than 1,000 have been arrested and upwards of 12 people have died. Iranian authorities said 87,400 people were involved in the unrest across the country.

People took the streets after the government-implemented increase in the price of fuel by 50%. According to the decision, vehicles for private use would be restricted to 60 liters of fuel monthly, while the price of petrol would jump 50% to 15,000 Iranian rials per liter. Any fuel in excess of those 60 liters would be charged with an additional 30,000 rials ($0.26) per liter.

Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeisi said that the decision was taken hastily, without consulting the wide public, but that it was necessary. The move is intended to raise about $2.5 billion a year for additional subsidies for 18 million families, or about 60 million Iranians on lower incomes. As of November 19th, the Iranian government began carrying out the direct payments to the 60 million poorest, of the country’s 80 million population.

The current economic situation in Iran is a result of the ongoing US-led sanction war against the country. In 2018, Iran’s $1.63 trillion economy was reduced by 3.5%. Iran’s inflation is officially upwards of 40%. The country’s economy is projected to shrink by around 6% in 2019. Official oil exports have gone down from about 2.5 million barrels a day before the US left the nuclear deal to less than 200,000 barrels a day.

WATCH THE VIDEO

The current round of protests began in Tehran on November 15th, with citizens blocking main roads and destroying property. By November 17th, the protests had reached some 100 cities and towns, including Tabriz, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Shiraz. At least 100 banks and 57 stores were set on fire.

The US publicly supported the demonstrations, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even tweeting his support of the Iranian people. The Trump administration released a general statement condemning Tehran’s alleged use of “lethal force” and its proven use of communications restrictions. US officials and mainstream media actively endorsed protestors make an attempt to overthrow the government.

Tehran called the US stance “hypocritical,” highlighting that Washington’s sanctions are the main reason for the unrest. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his support of the fuel price increase, saying that it was necessary, while condemning the violent protesters. There’s been a wide internet shutdown since the protests began, with connectivity falling to only around 4-7% of normal levels.

Prior to now, protests in Iran have sporadically happened, expressing public discontent with the complicated economic situation.

There’s been a tendency, beginning from December 2017, and they lasted until mid-January 2018.  Protesters expressed their opposition to cuts to fuel and cash subsidies, contained in the 2018 budget proposal unveiled in mid-December 2017. The previous protests were similar in nature to these, but less violent. There were similar protests in August, November and December 2018. In all the cases, protests had no clear political agenda and were mostly focused on the economic and social situation.

On November 19, authorities announced that the calm has been restored across the most of the country. However, the situation remains unstable and more unpopular economic moves needed to counteract the US economic pressure on the country may cause a new round of riots. Iran is unlikely to comply with the US’ demands for the “maximum pressure” campaign and trade the sovereignty to ease the sanctions.

The behavior of the US, which publicly calls on protestors to overthrow the Iranian government, is more common for a period of active war than for any kind of a peacetime public diplomacy. It demonstrates that Washington sees Iran as a country with which it is in a state of the military conflict. Such statements were unprecedented even towards the USSR during the Cold War. In fact, the US is waging an open aggressive hybrid war on Iran pushing the entire Middle East towards a further instability.

If Washington achieves its desired goal and anti-government protests in Iran expand and involve a large part of the population (20-30%), and the US continues endorsing them for more violence and regime-change attempts, there are notable chances that the cornered Iranian government will have to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Army against rioters. In the event of a deep crisis threatening the existence of the Iranian state in the current form, the country’s leadership may even opt to carry out a retaliatory strike on Israel, Saudi Arabia or US infrastructure in the region.

* Note to readers: Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

The original source of this article is South Front - Copyright © South Front, 2019

Read Also:

What Is Happening in Iran? Is Another “Color Revolution” Underway?

See also:

Die Feinstaubmessgeräte im Ahwas waren tagelang unbrauchbar. Eine gewaltige Staubwolke hatte sich über die Hauptstadt der ölreichen Provinz Khuzestan. Innerhalb von zwei Stunden war der Staub überall. Ich hatte auf einmal rote Flecken am ganzen Körper. Meine Haut brannte und ich wurde ins Krankenhaus eingeliefert. erzählt die Lehrerin Rosita aus Ahvaz im Gespräch mit der Deutschen Welle.

Iran: paralyzed by environmental neglect

Dust cloud with toxic particles

In Ahwaz, the instruments that monitor pollution from particulates were out of action for days. "Within hours, there was dust everywhere. Suddenly, I had red spots on my whole body. My skin felt like it was on fire and I was hospitalized," Rosita told DW. She is a teacher in Khuzestan, the capital of a province rich in oil.

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The Iran you will never see on American Television

Please note: We left those Videos, which Youtube - the Great Censor - already deleted: For you to judge their  heinous ways of withholding the truth and reality from you. Be patient it may take some time for all the videos to load.

I was tired of all the bad news and warmongering so I decided to go on a tour of Iran.I must say I enjoyed my tour.

I found some of the most interesting things.

So you can take with me the same tour I found and you know it gets rather addictive after a while.  Do be sure to take the entire tour and you will be amazed at what you see and learn.

This was of course my first curiosity as there are a large number of Jewish folks living there. So of course one needs to know how they feel about living there.

Iranian Jews to Israel: Our National Idenity is Not for Sale

Jews in Iran

So my second curiosity is how do Christians like living in Iran?

Christians in Islamic Republic of Iran 1

Christians in Islamic Republic of Iran 2


Well it seem both of those groups have no problem living in Iran and feel safe.

The  I found this. Iran build some pretty nice Vehicles.

Iran automotive industry

Pretty nice if you ask me.

This was just right up my alley. Old cars. Sweet.  They have an old coach just awesome. The girls would love it. Riding in it you feel like Cinderella.

National Car Museum of Iran Tehran

The National Car Museum of Iran is a museum in Karaj, Iran, opened in the year 2001. Inside the museums are classic cars owned by the last Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty, Mohammad Reza Shah. There are two parts to the complex. One is a large museum which is open to the public and there is a restoration center at the back side where no visitors can enter.

Iran super cars 2011 Not made in Iran But Iranians drive them.

Well anyone would. Pretty sweet cars they are.

Iran, Tehran photos
Tehran, as Iran’s showcase and capital city, has a wealth of cultural attractions.
The Peacock Throne of the Persian Kings (Shahs) can be found in Tehran’s Golestan Palace. Some of the well-known museums are National Museum of Iran, Sa’dabad Palaces Complex, Glassware and Ceramics Museum of Iran, The Carpet Museum of Iran,
Tehran’s Underglass painting Museum, Niavaran Palace Complex, and Safir Office Machines Museum.
The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art features the works of great artists such as Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. The collection of these paintings were selected by the former Empress Farah Diba


Another collection which is nice,  The ladies might enjoy this .You know how they love their jewelry.
Iran Royal Jewels

Well now one has to wonder about the night life. Not too shabby. I could hang out in a few of those places myself.

Tehran Persian Nights


For the Museum lovers I found a few places. Not everyone’s cup of tea but they do have some pretty old relics. Many were rather cool.

Reza Abbasi Museum-Iran

This episode of Iran program introduces the great Reza Abbasi Museum in Tehran and the museum’s invaluable pieces and artworks from pre-Islamic Iran up to the most recent centuries.

The Naderi Mausoleum and Museum-Iran

This episode of Iran takes us to the north east of Iran where we will find traces of Nader Shah; the Iranian king famous for his military genius.

This I would liked to have spent more time at. I love caves like this.
The Salman Cave-Iran

Not a big flower person but the ladies might enjoy it. They have a rather nice flower industry in Iran.

The City of Flowers-Iran

Nice place to tour around in.
Beautiful Tabriz city, Iran
Tabriz (Azerbaijani/Persian تبریز) is the most populated city in Iranian Azerbaijan, it is the fourth largest city and one of the historical capitals of Iran and the capital of East Azerbaijan Province

Well I am really getting right into this country. They have some really spectacular sights to see.
Iran Tour – Tabriz – 2011


Now we are getting to the really good stuff. I love pictures.

There is even some music on the video. Some you may like or not. I enjoy music so I was quite happy with it.

The Real Iran beautiful pictures


Mother nature is kind to Iran These are quit beautiful. What’s not to like about the country side in any country. Fresh air, mountains, valleys etc.  By the way if you love to ski, Iran has some nice places.

There is the odd duplicate picture but very few.

Nature of Iran


Iran in Pictures

Beautiful Iran Pictures


The Beautiful North of Iran ” Shomal” North Iran besides the Caspian Sea


That concludes the tour of  Iran.

You know just going on  the tour made me feel so much better.

I feel very peaceful.

Certainly needed a break away from all the horrors of war etc.

Just had to put thin so you all know What the US has done over the years. The truth prevails at lest on one point. All the Wars the US fought were for Gas/Oil.  Bolton let the cat out of the bag.

This is what you always hear on American TV about Iran.

Iran does not need oil or anything else in the Middle East Except to live in Peace. Bolton is obsessed with war.

Iran is doing just fine on it’s own, don’t you think?

Bet you never heard this on American Television either.

Mississippi in US calls on Iran for help with primary health care system

Iran: Seven Faces of a Civilization, a documentary by Farzin Rezaeian (2007)

“Drawing on historical and archeological evidence, this fascinating documentary by Dr. Farzin Rezaeian reconstructs 7,000 years of Iranian history.