The following article is a compilation of four investigative reports on torture and abuse of prisoners in Iran, by Iran International News Editor, Shahed Alavi.
Informed sources have told Iran International how the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) has been subjecting detained ecologists to physical and psychological torture.
The ecologists and environmentalists detained since 2018 have been accused of spying for foreign governments.
One of the sources who spoke to Shahed Alavi in his investigation, said IRGC interrogators had secretly filmed Tara Tahbaz, the daughter of one of the accused prisoners, Morad Tahbaz, at a café in New York and shown it to him in prison in 2018, threatening to kill Tara if her father did not agree to accept the scripted ‘confessions’ prepared by his interrogators. They also contacted Tara and made threats against her.
Dozens of the staff and activists of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), including Tahbaz, were arrested by the IRGC in 2018 and charged with espionage and acting against national security.
Tahbaz who has Iranian, British, and American citizenship is serving a ten-year sentence on espionage charges. Many believe he is being held as a hostage to be used as leverage against the US.
Morad Tahbaz during his work in Iran
Iranian authorities made a deal with the United Kingdom government in March to free two UK nationals held in Iran -- namely aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, businessman Anoosheh Ashuri, and Tahbaz -- but returned Tahbaz to prison after two days, using his American nationality as an excuse.
Torturing others to pressure a prisoner
Sepideh Kashani, one of the defendants in the case, was also subjected to severe psychological torture. Sources told Iran International that the IRGC arrested her sister and filmed her being interrogated in a prison uniform solely for the purpose of showing the footage to Kashani to make her confess according to their script.
Kashani’s husband and co-defendant Houman Jokar, was brutally beaten and then paraded in front of her covered in blood. Jokar sustained serious injuries, including a broken head and injuries to his face when his glasses were smashed onto his face.
In copies of her letters to authorities that another defendant, Sepideh Bayani,managed to leak to BBC Persian from the notorious Evin Prison in February 2020, she said her interrogators tortured and threatened her with sexual assault for over 1,200 hours during the eight months that she was held incommunicado.
Imprisoned Iranian ecologists and environmentalists
Bayani said her tortures included listening to descriptions of others being tortured and executions for hours. Her interrogators also pretended on several occasions that they were going to inject her with paralyzing or lethal substances.
Nowhere to appeal
Eight of the accused -- including Tahbaz, Kashani, Jokar, and Bayani -- are currently serving a total of 58-years in prison. In a letter to then-Chief-Justice Ebrahim Raisi in 2019 and now Iran’s president, the families of the detainees urged him to stop the IRGC’s charges against them and the use of torture in forced confessions.
The founder of PWHF, Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, who was also arrested died under suspicious circumstances in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran two days after his arrest. The accused who were tried behind closed doors often did not even have access to their court-appointed attorneys.
Based on interrogations by IRGC intelligence, judicial authorities claimed the accused had spied on military bases and activities in remote areas, including IRGC’s missile program, under the guise of monitoring wildlife and endangered species.
The IRGC made these claims despite the intelligence ministry’s admission that there was no evidence to support the charges. Isa Kalantari, head of the Department of Environment under President Hassan Rouhani, also confirmed lack of evidence to support such charges.
The IRGC has never presented any solid evidence for its claims. Two of the accused – Tahbaz and Niloufar Bayani – were forced under duress to make ‘confessesions’ against themselves and others but both retracted their confessions later.