While eight Iranian ecologists have been under "temporary detention" since January 2018, the head of Iran's judiciary says only intelligence authorities are allowed to "comment" on their legal case, and "the judge will decide their fate."
In a meeting with several ecologists on Saturday, July 13, the mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raisi responded to questions concerning the detention of the eight behind bars.
As several among his audience insisted that they intimately knew the detained environmentalists, Raisi explained, "Yes, you knew them at the institutions, colleges, and organizations. Your acquaintance with them was limited to your professional field. Therefore, you should let the intelligence and judicial authorities comment on their fate since it is their field of expertise."
Furthermore, the judiciary chief warned his guests to keep away from the legal case of their peers, adding, "You should not judge; let the magistrate judge."
The eight detainees are members of a local environmental group called the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which was established by Iranian-Canadian sociology professor and renowned ecologist Kavous Seyyed-Emami.
Emami was arrested along with the other eight environmentalists in January 2018 but died in jail a few weeks later under suspicious circumstances. Authorities at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison maintain that the 63-year-old Emami committed suicide while in custody, an explanation his family categorically rejects.
Out of the eight suspects, four were charged last year with "sowing corruption on Earth," a charge based on Iran’s "Islamic" law that can carry the death sentence.
Three other activists are accused of espionage, while the judiciary has charged the last one with "cooperating with hostile states" against Iran, "unlawful assembly and colluding to commit crimes against national security." If convicted, they could face up to eleven years in prison.
Appointed last March by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi admitted that there were some vague issues concerning the detained environmentalists, but “experts” made clarifications “after hours of research”, presenting their findings.
Insisting that he had no personal judgment on the case, Raisi stopped short of disclosing the outcome of the "experts' research," or the content of their findings.
Raisi's meeting with the environmentalists was held nearly two weeks after the relatives of the detained ecologists protested their loved ones' detention.
In their open letter to Raisi, the families of the eight had asserted that eighteen months after their detention, the Justice Department and "intelligence agents" affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have "failed to present any evidence" against them.
Furthermore, the signatories to the letter had listed a series of violations committed by the agents of the fearsome IRGC Intelligence Organization and the judicial authorities, including denying the detainees the right to have access to legal counsel, transferring them to unknown detention centers, threatening them after wrapping up their interrogations and issuing the indictments.
The Ministry of Intelligence, which is constitutionally responsible for issues related to espionage, and the Department of Environment (DoE) have repeatedly maintained that the detainees were not involved in espionage.
Nevertheless, the judiciary and the IRGC Intelligence Organization insist that the suspects were indeed spying for "hostile governments."
Meanwhile, dozens of human rights institutes, including the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) have deplored Iran's judiciary for keeping the environmentalists in custody.
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio has also defended the eight, calling for their immediate release.
Last February, DiCaprio called for international support and circulated a petition for the release of the Iranian environmentalists arrested by the IRGC.
In his latest plea issued on Instagram on Thursday, April 11, the famous actor repeated his concern over the fate of the Iranian ecologists.