The number of Iranian environmental activists dying in unexplained ways continues to pile up.
The body of Farshid Hakki, a human rights and environmental lawyer, economics writer, and Marxist intellectual, was found in his car in Tehran on October 17th. According to two of Hakki’s friends who found his body in his car’s trunk, Hakki had been stabbed multiple times before his body was set on fire. Eyewitnesses reported seeing some men set Hakki’s car ablaze then drive away.
Hossein Rahimi, Tehran’s police chief, declared Hakki’s death a suicide, despite the coroner’s office refusing to announce any specific cause of death. Rahimi further threatened to criminally charge those who publicly suggested that Hakki had been killed.
Hakki’s friends and family have told Iranian exile media that he was not suicidal, and that before his death he was under full-time surveillance by regime intelligence services. Those closest to him are certain that he was in fact assassinated at hands of the same agents.
Hakki had tried on numerous occasions to register a political party entitled Peeshtaazaan’eh Edaalat (Pioneers of Justice) but both the Ahmadinejad and Rouhani administrations refused to grant it certification. In the Khomeiniist regime where candidates and politics revolves around being handpicked by the Supreme Leader and the IRGC brass, approved by their Guardian Council, people like Hakki are automatically ruled out.
One of Hakki’s friends described his political views as: “leftist and more than anything he was a democrat. He did not believe in the elimination of other groups. He said ‘we should employ everyone from liberals, to the most traditional leftists and everyone in between, when building a democracy because democracy is humanity’s achievement and on that, we can agree.’”
In his last Telegram posting, Hakki wrote: “With reference to all socioeconomic indicators and in light of existing public discontent, Marx’s commentary on the proletariat can be used to describe the conditions which all Iranians (except for the thieves and looters that rule the economic structure) find themselves in; The people of Iran have nothing to lose but their chains.”
Hakki’s death was announced on October 21st, by Abdol Reza Davari, editor of Bar’resee’haa’yeh Eghtesaadi (Economic Studies) a monthly journal to which Hakki had contributed. Davari, a former member of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s entourage, also believes Hakki was murdered. The death comes at a time when environmentalists are facing heavy repression in Iran.
That same day, five environmental activists with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation – Houman Jowkar, Morad Tahbaz (an American citizen), Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, and Taher Ghadirian – were charged with “corruption on earth,” – a capital offense. The five had been under detention since January, when they were arrested along with four others, including their NGO’s head, Kavous Seyed-Emami. Sam Rajabi, Amir Hossein Khalegi, Abdol Reza Kouhpayeh remain under detention but have not yet been charged.
Despite their missions to protect Iran’s endangered animals, the Islamic regime’s state-run media nonetheless has insisted on labeling them as “spies”.
A few weeks after the group arrest, Seyed-Emami died while still under detention in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison. His death was also claimed to have been a suicide, but Seyed-Emami’s family, who reported being under heavy surveillance and threats from the intelligence ministry believe he was murdered by the regime.
The five who were charged with corruption on earth had their charges escalated from espionage, after the Islamic Republic Supreme National Security Council sent a letter to the court that was in charge of overseeing their case. The same court also refused their legal representative, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, prominent human rights defender, to represent them, instead issuing them a regime assigned public defenders. The public defenders in the Islamic judiciary often turn out to be the very same as the interrogators.
In addition to Hakki and Seyed-Emami, activists who died this year include: Maryam Faraji (body found burnt in her car, Karaj, in July), Mohammad Sadegh Yousefi and his brother Mohammad Bagher (died in a car accident in Ham, Bushehr province in February), Ahmad Nazari, Gholam Ali Ahmadi, Salman Sharif Azari, Mehdi Javidpour, Hamed Amiri, Seyed Behzad Siadati, Ardeshir Rad, Mostofa Rezaei, Ali Zareh, Mohammad Fahyami, Ali Farzaneh, Seyed Reza Fatemi-Talab, Ahmad Charmian, Khalil Ahangaran, Mozhgan Nazari, and Behnam Bazargar (environmental scientists on board a plane that crashed into Mount Dena in March).
Environmentalists have quickly become a group feared by Tehran’s authorities, as they do not want the full scale of the damage to Iran’s land and waters to become fully apparent to the international community. Though the extent of that disaster too is becoming quickly apparent and undeniable as well. Scientists say that the problems are only going to worsen without major corrective measures and policies. More scientific input into environmental management is desperately required.
Instead however, this year alone, over twenty environmentalists have died under suspicious circumstances. Iranians are comparing it to the “chain murders” of twenty years ago, when dozens of prominent intellectuals, writers and dissidents died in quick succession under unexplained and mysterious violent conditions that the regime claimed at the time to have also been suicides, but were later proven to be regime extrajudicial killings.