Eight researchers, employees of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (“PWHF”), a nonprofit conservation organization, were arrested in January 2018 and charged with spying. In November 2019 they were found guilty and sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to ten years in prison. The conservationists were tracking cheetahs with camera traps, a typical way to capture pictures of wildlife. Initially, the researchers were charged with “sowing corruption on Earth” which is a charge that carries a death penalty – but those charges were dismissed.
One of the environmentalists captured with the group was the Director of the PWHF. He died in jail three weeks after arrest of suspicious circumstances. The others in the group were subjected to torture, long periods of prolonged solitary confinement, denial of due process, a sham trial with sham convictions and sentencing without evidence or regard for the requirements of law. Allegedly they were tortured and made to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.
The researchers sentenced are:
PWHF Founder Morad Tahbaz (holds US and Iranian citizenships), program manager Niloufar Bayani (both received 10-year sentences); Houman Jowkar and Taher Ghadirian received 8 years sentences; Sepideh Kashani and Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi sentenced to six years. Abdolreza Kouihpayeh and Sam Radjabi have not as yet been sentenced. All verdicts were presented to the defendants without their lawyers present.
Many internationally renowned conservationists have spoken out in their defense such as Jane Goodall, Tanya Rosen (National Geographic), Sarah Durant (Zoological Society of London).