Iran is suffering from some environmental disasters

Iranian environmental activists on hunger strike

They are waiting for their trial - for more than 560 days. Eight Iranian environmental activists are charged with espionage and high treason. Two of them, Nilufar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani, have been on hunger strike since early August, reports Human Rights Watch. The members of the group were arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's secret service in January 2018. Since then, they have been in the notorious Evin maximum security prison in the north of the capital Tehran.

Human Rights Watch said three other members of the group, Human Jokar, Amir Hossein Khaleghi and Taher Ghadiri, have now started hunger strikes. The detainees demand a fair trial and, above all, their release on bail.

Sam Rajabi: in custody for 560 days

A highly political topic

Mysterious arrests and trials with serious consequences for those affected are not uncommon in Iran. But the case of the environmental activists is particularly obscure. The fight against environmental pollution in Iran is a highly political and at the same time sensitive issue. Iran suffers from enormous water shortages. The destruction of nature and forests and especially the water reservoirs for economic reasons have left their mark. The Revolutionary Guards or other state institutions have a financial stake in many commercial enterprises that do not care about sustainability.

"The biggest concern for us is that we don't know anything about the trial," said Katayoun Radjabi, sister of the detained activist Sam Radjabi, in an interview with DW. "My brother was arrested on January 25, 2018 with eight other nature conservation activists in Iran and has been illegally held in custody since then. The charge is espionage and cooperation with hostile states." Cooperating with countries like Israel and the US is one of the most serious crimes in the mullah state.

An unexplained death

Found dead in the cell: Kavous Seyed Emami

Among those arrested in January 2018 was the well-known environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami, founder and head of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF). He was found dead in his cell a month after his arrest. Authorities said he took his own life, a claim that has not been investigated or proven, mainly because the "suicide" occurred in a prison where prisoners are monitored around the clock.

The processes behind the prison walls are completely unexplained - as is the conduct of the litigation. So far, the activists had appeared several times in closed court sessions. "In October 2018, our lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi was given the opportunity to represent my brother before the examining magistrate," says Katayoun Radjabi, who lives in Germany. "The charge of espionage, which can be punished with the death penalty in Iran, has been dropped. However, he was charged with working with the US conservation agency seven years ago and endangering internal security."

Hot topic: water pollution in Iran

In the meantime, attorney Aghasi is no longer allowed to defend the accused. When the charges were officially read out at the end of January 2019, Judge Sam Radjabi said that his defense counsel was undesirable. No reason was given.

Not a fair trial

"In Iran, a criminal is brought to trial within a very short time. The environmental activists, on the other hand, have been in custody for over 18 months - although the Ruhani government and the head of the Iranian environmental protection agency have made it clear that the espionage allegations against the environmentalists are false," says Dr. Adolkarim Lahiji, lawyer and President of the International Federation for Human Rights, who is prosecuting the case.

The country's National Security Council and several MPs have also determined that there is no evidence of the espionage allegations against the environmentalists. In an interview with DW, Abdolkarim Lahiji said that this case was "full of illegality from the start" and "far from a fair trial."

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Dust cloud with toxic particles

    In Ahwaz, the particulate matter measuring devices did not work for days. "Within two hours the dust was everywhere. Suddenly I had red spots all over my body. My skin burned and I was hospitalized," said teacher Rosita from the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in an interview with DW.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Burned neighboring country

    Sandstorms have become the nightmare of the people in southern Iran - for the past eight years they have been getting worse every time. Iranian politicians claim that the toxic, dust-mixed particles come from neighboring Iraq. There has been a war there for 35 years. The date palm forests are burned, agriculture is ruined, and the air is full of chemicals.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Bad water management

    Iranian politicians call the country the "island of stability and security in the Middle East". But the situation is not looking good, especially in the environmental sector: Climate change and poor water management have caused 80 percent of the 40 most important lakes to have dried up. These areas are considered to be the main sources of fine dust. The Karun River in Ahwaz is also drying up.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Stretches of land could become uninhabitable

    Even so, there is no plan in Iran to protect the environment. At the end of January, the Heinrich Böll Foundation published a report on water scarcity in Iran. The country's massive environmental problems are described on 160 pages. "The acute water shortage threatens to make large stretches of land uninhabitable in the future," warns the report.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Power failure harms the oil industry

    The sandstorm in Khuzestan caused massive disruptions in the electricity supply. With far-reaching consequences: The oil industry in Khuzestan was temporarily paralyzed. 750,000 barrels of oil are produced there every day. The revenues from the oil industry contribute to a large part of the Iranian state budget. That is why a MP from Khuzestan warned of a national crisis.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Rouhani under pressure

    Conservative politicians accuse Hassan Rouhani's government of not having the situation under control. Rouhani, in turn, blames his predecessor Mahmud Ahmadinejad for the impending environmental disaster. As president, he had accused the West of "causing the drought in Iran" - as part of a sinister plan to "undermine the Islamic Republic".

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Powerless environmental agency

    The Revolutionary Guards not only have their own contingents for the army, air force, navy, special units for missions abroad or the Basij volunteer militia. You are also an economic power in Iran. Its economic wing, Khatam al-Anbiya, builds roads, tunnels, pipelines and dams. Many dams are simply filled with earth - without consulting the environmental authorities.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Dam break? Fake news!

    In February, an earth dam breaks in the southern Iranian province of Jahrom. 700 houses are destroyed and more than 2,000 other buildings are damaged. The director general for crisis management in the province first denied the reports of the dam breach. The photos on social media are called fakes.

  • Iran: when nature paralyzes a country

    Organized irresponsibility

    Nobody takes responsibility for the mismanagement and belated rescue operations in Jahrom Province.

    Author: Shabnam von Hein


In the past few weeks, more than 100 academics in Iran have called for the environmental activists to be released in an open letter to Justice Minister Ebrahim Raisi, who is known as a hardliner. Another 90 environmental initiatives in Iran call for a fair trial and the right to defense lawyers for the detained activists. The authorities have not yet responded. According to Human Rights Watch, the detainees' families are being pressured to remain silent on the matter.