A BRIT is among eight conservationists facing torture and the death penalty in Iran over spying charges but say they were helping to protect endangered leopards.
Four of the eight charged, including Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian who holds a British passport, have seen their charges increased to “corruption on earth”, which carries the maximum penalty of hanging.
The group were part of a scheme monitoring cheetahs and leopards but the Iranian Revolutionary Guard say the camera traps that had been set were being used to spy on the country’s missile programme for the CIA.
A total of 28 MEPs have written to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to raise concerns over how the trial is being conducted after one of the defendants, Niloufar Bayani, 31, claimed she had been tortured.
They wrote: “We are concerned that the trial of eight activists, that has begun behind closed doors on 30 January 2019, falls seriously short of fair trial standards.
“Judge Abdolghassem Salavati at Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court reportedly prevented a defendant from appearing in court with a lawyer of his own choosing, and after one of the defendants told the court she has been absent from the past two sessions of the trial, that she had been tortured in detention.”
‘JUDGE OF DEATH’
Salavati, who is under EU sanctions, has been described by opponents as “the judge of death”.
Human rights groups have also condemned the trial.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch said: “The gravity of due process violations against these activists over the past year, and the recent allegation of torture and forced confessions, has reinforced the reality that the judiciary is a tool of repression and a symbol of injustice.
“The highest-ranking authorities should immediately investigate this allegation of torture, immediately call for the release of these activists, and end the grave abuses against them.”
Bayani is said to have told the judge in a hearing on February 2: “If you were being threatened with a needle of hallucinogenic drugs above your arm, you would also confess to whatever they wanted you to confess,” according to the group.
Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh were originally arrested a year ago.
Only court-appointed lawyers have been allowed to represent the eight.
Details of the trial have slowly leaked out with the prosecution believed to be reading out a 300-page indictment.
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The case initially came to light after a ninth member of the team, part of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was found dead in his cell.
Kavous Seyed-Emami, a professor at Tehran University, was said to have killed himself while in detention but his family has disputed this.
Environmentalists have dismissed the spying claims as “absurd”.