ZSL’s statement on the unjust prison sentences imposed on Iranian conservationists

ZSL is deeply concerned about the recent long prison sentences imposed on eight Iranian wildlife conservationists jailed in Iran. These conservationists face up to ten years in prison on, what we consider to be, false charges relating to spying.

Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahaz, Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, Sam Radjabi and Abdolreza Koupayeh were recently sentenced after their arrest nearly two years ago in January 2018. A ninth conservationist, Kavous Seyed Emami, was also arrested, but died while in police custody. To the best of our knowledge, no evidence was presented for the accusations against them at any point during their prosecution and closed trials.

These conservationists have made significant contributions to knowledge and conservation of wildlife in their country. Several are members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Cat and Bear Specialist Groups and World Commissions on Communication, Education and Protected Areas. ZSL has engaged with several of these individuals in their conservation work, particularly in their efforts to halt population decline in the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah. 

ZSL understands that the charges faced by the conservationists are associated with their use of camera traps to gather important information on the wildlife of Iran. Camera traps are used all over the world as a standard scientific approach to monitor wildlife, particularly shy and elusive big cats, such as the Asiatic cheetah. These camera traps have a close focus and cannot be used for spying.

The imprisonment of these innocent conservationists in Iran set a dangerous precedent that should concern the entire global conservation community. ZSL, as a conservation science organisation, that routinely uses camera traps in its own work to monitor and understand biodiversity stands, together with conservation partners, around the world in support of the imprisoned Iranian conservationists. ZSL urges the Iranian authorities to overturn these sentences in order to secure their immediate release.