By Maisie Hopkins

Niloufar Bayani is an Iranian researcher and conservationist who was arrested in January 2018 whilst conducting field research work in Iran as part of her role with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF). In October 2018, Ms Bayani and three of her colleagues were indicted with the charge of ‘sowing corruption on earth’, which carries the death penalty. After almost two years of legal limbo, in November 2019, Niloufar was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of ‘contacts with the U.S. enemy state’. Multiple human rights organisations continue to dispute the validity of these charges as the circumstances surrounding her case remain shrouded in uncertainty and confusion.

Niloufar Bayani’s case demands international attention, support and cooperation. Multiple international human rights organisations have been dedicated in their mission to free Niloufar, but there is a long way to go. This post will give a background to why Niloufar was imprisoned, and the injustices and legality – or lack thereof, surrounding her case. The following post will be written by Benjamin Mitchell on the legality surrounding her case, the current campaigns to free Niloufar, and what needs to be done.

Niloufar was educated in micro biology at McGill university in Canada before going on to a postgraduate degree at Columbia University in America. Following this, Niloufar worked as a consultant for the United Nations environmental program, working on many different projects. For example, in Haiti, and various African countries Niloufar worked on animal conservation and environmental protection.

Niloufar is actually Iranian, and wanted to go back home to see her family and her home country. She got a job with the Persian wildlife fund as a project manager, working on the Asiatic cheetah, one of the most endangered animals in the world. In 2015 The Guardian reported that there were only 50 left in the wild, most of which are in Iran. Iran had already lost the Asiatic lion and special tiger species, portraying how considerable an issue the protection of the cheetah was. Thus, Niloufar went out to Iran and worked on the protection of these cheetahs. This is commonly achieved by setting camera traps, which is why she was arrested. By this point, Niloufar had been in the country for less than a year.

In terms of conservation the cheetah faced a lot of issues from human interaction. Farmers would often kill them because they would occasionally kill members of their flock and a lot of them were just run over. The magnitude of the issue highlights the significance of Niloufar’s case.

The Communications Director of the Human Rights Centre in Iran has commented that what Iran has done by arresting Niloufar, and the rest of her colleagues, is declare that conservation is a crime. This is very dangerous, particularly in terms of climate change, and is not a positive road to be embarking on.

Niloufar was arrested on the 25th of January 2018 and did not face trial for another 8 months. She was charged with espionage and sowing corruption on the earth. During this time she spent the predominance of it in solitary confinement. One of her colleagues, who was an American-Iranian, was killed under suspicious circumstances during his detention, highlighting the severity of the issue and the danger that Niloufar is still in. Niloufar, at this time, was also facing the death sentence. She eventually had her trial in October, but the entirety of the trial was based on her false confession. Recent articles have come to light of her complaint stating that the confession was extracted under torture, sexual abuse, and the threat of them torturing her elderly parents. All of this makes it incredibly easy to understand the reason behind her confession. Whilst the whole case was built upon this false confession, Niloufar did try and change this fate for herself during her trial. Niloufar interrupted the proceedings and explained what had happened to the judge. Niloufar then proceeded to be absent for 3 out of 5 days of her trial, a grave violation of her right to a fair trial, which is also under the International Covenant on civil and political rights which Iran is a signatory of. Due to their ratification of this, they are in violation of a binding international human right.

Niloufar was sentenced to 10 years. Considering her earlier sentence, this was good but on the whole, Niloufar is innocent so 10 years is still wholly unjust and unfair. Despite Niloufar appealing the decision, on the 20th February this year it came out that her appeal had been dismissed, meaning that she has to spend the 10 years in prison.

The claims of espionage against Niloufar are incredibly circumstantial, there is no actual evidence of them. The Iranian National Security Agency have even come out and admitted that she was not spying, but that the conviction still stands and there is nothing more she can do. The unjustness of the situation has been highlighted by government agencies, the intelligence agency and multiple international agencies have stated that there is no evidence to support the claim. Despite this, the claim still stands. Even more egregious, the whole way through the only lawyers that Niloufar was allowed contact with were from a preselected list from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. There were no women or human rights lawyers on the list. In essence, she wasn’t given any chance at all.

Image: Daniel Hoops