OE Watch Commentary: On 24 January 2018, Iranian authorities arrested Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami. On 9 February 2018, Iranian authorities alerted his wife that he had committed suicide in prison, a charge his family fiercely denies. The episode, however, placed Iran’s growing environmentalist movement in the spotlight. The Islamic Republic’s environmental record is poor. Greater Tehran, with its approximately 14 million people, can rival Beijing and New Delhi in terms of pollution. Government opacity and the involvement of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps means that ordinary Iranians often have little recourse to hold polluters accountable. Just as with the Gezi Movement in Turkey, the Iranian government has cracked down quickly and forcefully on environmental organizing, presumably because environmentalism has the potential to organize a broad array of citizenry across traditional sectarian and political divisions
It is against this backdrop that the excerpted article from the hardline Mehr News Agency is relevant. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the second most powerful judiciary official in Iran and the ministry’s spokesman, announced that security forces had rounded up 70 individuals accused of espionage under the cover of environmentalism. Tehran Public Prosecutor Abbas Ja’fari-Dowlatabadi explained, “These individuals have been collecting classified information about the country’s strategic areas under the guise of carrying out scientific and environmental projects.” While Mohseni-Ejei has announced that no foreigner was among those in the most recent rounds of arrests in the Persian Gulf littoral Hormozgan province, his quip that foreign influence permeates environmentalism suggests segues with the judiciary’s espionage conspiracy and reflects Iran’s efforts to taint all grassroots activism with accusations of foreign control. End OE Watch Commentary (Rubin)
A spokesman for the judiciary said: With regard to the spy case in the guise of environmental activity, three people in Hormozgan have recently been arrested, but no foreigner has been arrested in the case. According to the Mehr correspondent, in the 125th [weekly] press conference, Hojjat al-Islam Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei in answer to the question “Was any foreigner arrested in the case of the environmental activists?” said, “Three people were recently arrested in Hormozgan [province], but no foreigner was arrested in this case….”
He said, “[Foreign] influence is a serious issue, and at the head of it are the United States and Israel, and we must pay attention to it.