A McGill University graduate arrested in Iran with seven fellow wildlife conservationists has defiantly told a court she was tortured and forced to confess to trumped-up spying charges, human rights groups say.

The news emerged this week as friends of Niloufar Bayani launched a website — niloufarbayani.com — and YouTube video about the jailed conservationist’s plight.

Iranian-born Bayani, who graduated from McGill with a biology degree in 2009, repeatedly interrupted the reading of the indictment on Jan. 30, the first day of the trial for the conservationists, the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran said.

Bayani, facing a charge that can carry the death penalty, told the court the indictment was solely based on a false confession she gave while under physical and psychological torture in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. She said she was repeatedly beaten and threatened.

“When the defendant persisted, the judge warned her to stop her objections but after she continued to object, she was allowed to talk for a few minutes about the coerced nature of the confessions,” an unnamed source told the Centre.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said Bayani, 31, also denounced her treatment on Feb. 2, the second day of the trial. A source told the group that Bayani said: “If you were being threatened with a needle of hallucinogenic drugs (hovering) above your arm, you would also confess to whatever they wanted you to confess.”

The conservationists were arrested in January 2018. All work for the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, an environmental organization. Also arrested was Iranian-Canadian foundation director Kavous Seyed-Emami; he died three weeks later under suspicious circumstances at Evin prison.

The conservationists were tracking Asiatic cheetahs using camera traps — motion-activated devices collecting data about the endangered species. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard allege the work is a cover for spying on military installations.

Bayani and three others are charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” punishable by death. The other four are facing lesser charges. The accused were not allowed to choose their lawyers.

Presiding over the closed-door trial is Abolghassem Salavati, a hardline judge known for harsh sentences and referred to as the “judge of death” by rights activists. In 2011, the European Union sanctioned Salavati for “serious human rights violations.”

In light of the torture allegations, rights groups this week repeated their call for the conservationists to be released.

“The gravity of due process violations against these activists over the past year, and the recent allegation of torture and forced confessions, has reinforced the reality that the judiciary (in Iran) is a tool of repression and a symbol of injustice,” said Michael Page of Human Rights Watch.

Radio Farda, a U.S.-funded Persian-language media outlet, this week reported that some members of the Iranian parliament have asked President Hassan Rouhani to ensure the conservationists have access to their own lawyers. They also urged Rouhani to meet with the families of the detainees.

The Canadian government, which cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, has said it is “deeply concerned” about Bayani’s detention.

After graduating from McGill, Bayani obtained a master’s degree in conservation biology at Columbia University. She then worked for the United Nations Environment Program in Geneva before returning to Iran in 2017.

On Jan. 24, the one-year anniversary of Bayani’s arrest, several friends posted tributes on social media.

“Niloufar is a committed environmentalist with a brilliant mind and a kind heart,” Hayley Lapalme tweeted.

“I can’t imagine what the past 365 days must have been like for her,” Charles Pellegrin posted on Twitter. “There is one thing that I’m quite certain about though. She is a free spirit, and she will continue to be.”

Source » montrealgazette