Environmentalists filmed Iran’s vanishing cheetahs. Now they could be executed for spying.

Environmentalists filmed Iran’s vanishing cheetahs. Now they could be executed for spying....
msn.com 26/08/2019 Nature

Keywords:#Asiatic_cheetah, #Ben_Guarino, #Canadian, #Erin_Cunningham, #Getty, #Getty_Images, #Iran, #Iranian, #Kavous_Seyed-Emami, #Msn.com, #Persian, #Tehran, #Wildlife

By Erin Cunningham, Ben Guarino
The nine conservationists had embarked on one of the most ambitious wildlife projects in Iran in recent years, setting camera traps in seven provinces to monitor the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, whose dwindling population stalks Iran’s central plateau.
They worked with the government, secured the right permits and received funding and equipment from abroad. But the researchers, all Iranian, soon drew the suspicion of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of Iran’s armed forces, and were arrested last year for alleged espionage.
Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images
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The nine conservationists had embarked on one of the most ambitious wildlife projects in Iran in recent years, setting camera traps in seven provinces to monitor the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, whose dwindling population stalks Iran’s central plateau.
They worked with the government, secured the right permits and received funding and equipment from abroad. But the researchers, all Iranian, soon drew the suspicion of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of Iran’s armed forces, and were arrested last year for alleged espionage.
Now, four members of the team charged with “spreading corruption on earth” could face the death penalty, and four others could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. The researchers, from the nonprofit Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, are awaiting a verdict in a trial that rights groups say has been marred by abuses and accusations of torture.
The ninth researcher who was detained, the foundation’s chairman, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody shortly after his arrest last year. Tehran’s prosecutor general said Seyed-Emami, a professor who also held Canadian citizenship, had died by suicide, but family members and colleagues have rejected that account.
“He was hopeful and optimistic about the country’s future,” Seyed-Emami’s son, Mehram, said in an interview. “He was never one to have hard-line or polarized views.”
The plight of the conservationists, described by friends and family as passionate champions of the environment, has highlighted what analysts say is the growing criminalization of scientific and scholarly research in Iran, spurred in part by the security forces’ profound suspicion of contacts with foreign institutions.
---Iran has jailed a team of researchers amid widening fears of a crackdown on scientific scholarship. ---
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