Iranian government, politics, and power – explaining the details behind Bayani’s arrest
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a unique government structure, formed by blending democracy and theocracy. There are officials elected by citizens, but there are also offices whose officials are appointed by the government. The Supreme Leader, currently Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, is the religious head of the government, and holds the greatest power of any position. The Supreme Leader is the commander in chief of the military, and was also the office which created the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to ensure no counter-revolutions would occur. The Supreme leader directs foreign and domestic policies, and appoints and removes numerous offices including judicial officials, those in charge of radio and television networks, and the supreme commander of the IRGC. The entire Council of Guardians, in charge of interpreting the Iranian constitution, is directly or indirectly appointed by the Supreme Leader. However, the President of Iran and members of the Iranian Parliament are elected by the public, and do still have governmental influence. The President directs economic policies, though many powers often associated with a traditional president are not given to the Iranian President – instead, the Supreme Leader takes on these tasks. The Parliament also writes legislation and treaties, although all laws created must be approved by the Council of Guardians.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC or Sepah – the army that protects the Islamic republic political system, not the mainstream Iranian military) charged and convicted 8 members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) with espionage, spying on Iran for the US and Israel. The IRGC claims that conservationists of the PWHF were using their camera traps, a well known tool in ecology and conservation to document elusive animals, to instead collect sensitive information about military sites. However, the cameras were motion-sensored and not designed with high-resolution zoom. Furthermore, the founder of PWHF had already obtained permission from the environmental embassy and “was transparent about his work.”
Iran unfortunately is no stranger to unjust sentences, and has allegedly made a habit of committing human-rights violations in order to maintain power. In September of 2020, Iran carried out the execution of Navid Afkari, who was convicted of murdering a security guard during anti-government protests in 2018, despite a lack of presented evidence and much global outcry. Afkari, a champion Greco-Roman wrestler, insisted he was innocent, claiming the government needed someone to blame for the murder, and he happened to be a public figure who opposed the regime. Afkari stated that his confession to the murder was forced through torture, and that the Iranian Judiciary was unwilling to investigate any evidence supporting his innocence, rather they focused on a video taken an hour before the murder as evidence of Afkari’s guilt. Many prominent figures and organizations, such as the International Olympic Committee, spoke out against the sentencing, but Afkari was executed regardless, and was not allowed to visit his family one last time.
The real reason behind the conservationists’ arrest is detailed below by the news site Kalame, and confirmed by numerous sources and scholars who have noticed a general surge of the IRGC against environmentalists, likely due to their protests of contamination from military weapons testing: “The environmentalists were targeted for opposing the installation of missile sites on protected UN lands. The conservation groups made it clear that the IRGC was endangering their activities to collect information and take photos of animals and plants for the UN, and eventually the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization used espionage as an excuse to arrest the environmentalists so that it could continue its activities in the protected regions without any problem.”,
Influential people in the Iranian parliament and government have already spoken out about the conservationists’ innocence and the injustice of their treatment, but this has been to no avail. For instance, in April of 2018, 800 Iranian environmental scientists signed a letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani protesting the detention of the PWHF conservationists. The president appointed the minister of justice, minister of interior, minister of intelligence, and president’s legal deputy to investigate allegations against the PWHF environmentalists. They concluded that the detained conservationists are in custody without having done anything and must be freed soon. As stated by David Laylin, a previous member of PWHF, the Sepah have responded to the governmental committees conclusion of innocence by claiming “we have information you don’t; shut up and mind your own business.” This clearly presents a problem to academic freedom, and a clash between the theocracy’s personal agenda and values, and democracy’s achievement of justice.American advocacy in Iran is also a difficult and tension-filled affair. It is underscored by the 1952 coup (Operation Ajax, US driven), therefore connections to the US (such as US-made camera traps, education and funding from US agencies, etc), are usually viewed with suspicion as possible forms of espionage. There are no good US/Iran relations to build on, and no US corporations do relations with Iran, so there are no means of economic sanctions for leverage. However, the Iranian regime desires security and wants to be recognized as a legitimate state, so there is influence of world power’s opinion and view of Iran.