Iran Pardons 4 Environmental Activists to Commemorate Eid al-Fitr, Lawyer Says

Iran has pardoned and begun freeing four environmental activists who spent several years in prison on espionage charges, Iranian state media said on Monday. The pardons were granted to commemorate Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday celebrated at the end of Ramadan, according to their lawyer.

Iran has a tradition of freeing prisoners, but not political ones, around religious holidays. The releases came months after high-stakes negotiations with the United States led to the freeing of a prominent Iranian American wildlife conservationist, Morad Tahbaz, and four others in exchange for the unfreezing of billions in Iranian assets by the United States.

The four activists pardoned this week, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Taher Qadirian and Houman Jokar, were among eight environmentalists arrested in the winter of 2018 on charges of espionage and collaborating with Iran’s enemies — charges they have vehemently denied. They were later transferred to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Mr. Bayani and Mr. Jokar were freed on Monday, according to images posted by their families on social media. A lawyer for the activists, Hojjat Kermani, said he expected the other two to be freed at a later time.

On Monday, Kaveh Madani, Iran’s former No. 2 environmental official who is now the director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, said in a post on the social media platform X: “Our long nightmare has ended. The remaining imprisoned Iranian Environmentalists will be finally released. This is a great day for Iran’s environment.”

Amid sporadic nationwide protests against the ruling Islamic government, environmentalists have moved into the regime’s cross hairs, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps often accusing them of spying for Western governments. Also in 2018, some environmentalists criticized the ruling clerics for long-term mismanagement of water supplies and corruption.

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