Jailed Cheetah Conservationists Receive Harsh Sentences in Iran

The eight conservationists who have just been sentenced in Iran were trying to conserve the rare Asiatic cheetah, of which only 50 remain in the wild. This photo is not of an Asiatic cheetah. _MG_3526 by Chris. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For almost two years, eight cheetah conservationists have been detained in Iran, accused of spying. The researchers have been sentenced, and it is not good.

All eight conservationists were found guilty.

Despite a complete lack of evidence. Two of them, Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz, have been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Taher Ghadirian and Houman Jowkar both received eight year sentences, while Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi and Sepideh Kashani are slated to spend six years in custody. This National Geographic article by Kayleigh E. Long – of which this post is but a summary – states that the fates of two more conservationists are not yet known. Their names are Sam Radjabi and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.

The sentences above, while egregious, are better than what they could have been: four of the eight conservationists were initially charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” which could have warranted the death penalty.

One conservationist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, has already died in custody. The Iranian authorities have denied requests for an independent investigation into his death. However, Niloufar Bayani has claimed that she and her colleagues have been tortured, which raises suspicions about how all the researchers – including Seyed-Emami – have been treated.

Panthera’s Role

All of the cheetah conservationists who were arrested belonged to the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF). The PWHF had previously received technical and scientific assistance from Panthera, an international conservation organization based in New York City.

That may have contributed to their fates.

Panthera’s Founder and Chairman is billionaire Thomas Kaplan, who made his fortune through investing in precious metals and mining. Kaplan is also a funder of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI): a lobbying group that advocates for “the economic and diplomatic isolation of the Iranian regime” to push for, among other things, regime change in Iran.

In September of 2017, Kaplan made a series of hateful – and, quite frankly, insane – comments about Iran in a speech before UANI. Once the PWHF learned of this, they sent a letter to Panthera stating that they could no longer work with Kaplan’s organization, since doing so might put them in jeopardy. Three months later, the aforementioned members of the PWHF were arrested.

Throughout this ordeal, Kaplan and Panthera have remained silent as their former colleagues have been detained; and, most likely, tortured. This is inexcusable.

The fact that neither Kaplan nor Panthera have said anything about their potential roles in what has transpired – a recent search in Panthera’s news and press release databases for “Iran” turned up zero results – raises doubts about their integrity. This is a shame, because Panthera employs some of the finest scientists and conservationists in the world, who are now caught up in this mess.

Further Reading

For more information about this terrible sequence of events, read Long’s original article on National Geographic.

(There is a button below, because I like buttons).

8 Thoughts

    1. Thanks for your support Nia, this is terrible. I suspect that these conservationists are being tortured and detained because of their former affiliations with Thomas Kaplan, which is a sentiment shared by others who are familiar with this case. There’s no evidence – absolutely none – that they were spying.

      Liked by 1 person

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