Tortured Iranian activist advised by HRW researcher to stay quiet: Family member

The eight Iranian environmentalist activists currently in prison. (Twitter)

An Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) advised families of imprisoned Iranian environmental activists against publicizing the torture they were subjected to in prison, according to a family member of one of the imprisoned activists.

Iran's judiciary sentenced eight environmental activists on Tuesday for a total of 58 years for acting against national security and collaborating with the US. Iranian lawmakers and the intelligence ministry have said there is no grounds for the arrests.

Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at HRW, “encouraged” families of the imprisoned environmentalists to “stay quiet” and not publicize the severe torture the activists were enduring in prison, tweeted Katayoun Rajabi, sister of Sam Rajabi, one of the imprisoned environmentalists.

Human Rights Watch said they were unable to comment on this issue at the time, and the researcher was not immediately available for comment.

Sepehri Far was aware the activists were subjected to torture for almost one year but did not report on it, according to Iranian journalist Niki Mahjoub.

Mahjoub also tweeted “Unfortunately, security forces severely pressured the families to remain silent, and a number of individuals claiming human rights activism unwillingly joined security forces in encouraging silence for political purposes.”

Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian environmental activist and university professor who was arrested at the same time as the other activists in February 2018 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), died under suspicious circumstances in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison two days after being arrested.

BBC Persian published a detailed report on Tuesday recounting the torture that Niloufar Bayani, one of the eight imprisoned environmentalists, had endured over the past two years.

The report, based on documents and letters Bayani managed to send out of Evin prison say she was subjected to physical and psychological torture by her interrogators to extract forced confessions from her.

Bayani’s interrogators forced her to imitate animal sounds and threatened to give her a paralyzing injection and rape, according to the report.

She was interrogated for at least 1,200 hours, the report added.

The interrogators also showed Bayani an image of Seyed Emami’s dead body and warned her that if she didn’t confess, she, her colleagues, and her family members will suffer the same fate as Seyed Emami.

The BBC report sparked a public outcry on social media.

“HRW researcher Sepehri Far had been aware of part of the abuse suffered by Bayani for a while, yet she did not report on it or encourage the Bayani family to publicize it,” Iranian journalist Shahed Alavi tweeted.

Niloufar Bayani, Hooman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Taher Ghadirian, Sam Rajabi, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh and Morad Tahbaz are the environmentalists currently in prison in Iran. They are all members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Iranian wildlife.

HRW has been accused of having a pro-Iran bias on several occasions.

Read more: Human Rights Watch analysis shows lopsided coverage of Iran versus Saudi Arabia

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