Eight environmentalists accused of "spying" on Iranian military bases appeared in court Wednesday for a closed-door trial, the official news agency IRNA reported. "The environmentalists were summoned to the court," Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, a representative of the accused, told IRNA. Aghasi, however, was not present in court as the state designated its own hand-picked lawyers to represent the defendants, IRNA reported.
"I, as the lawyer of Sam Rajabi, one of those accused in the case, was not invited to the trial," Aghasi was quoted as saying. Aghasi told AFP that he was "puzzled" by the court's decision since "the court should never oppose the lawyer chosen by the accused." Defendants he represents were told that they should change their lawyer, he said. Four of the environmentalists were accused in October of "corruption on earth" -- a charge that can carry the death sentence in Iran. Another three defendants are accused of espionage and the last has been charged with "conspiracy against national security", according to IRNA.
The semi-official news agency ISNA said the next session will be held on Saturday. Several environmentalists were arrested in Iran early last year on espionage charges Apart from the eight on trial, others arrested in the capital have been freed, Aghasi said, but "there are others charged with criminal activities out of Tehran". One of the activists arrested last year, Kavous Seyed Emami, a 63-year-old renowned university professor with dual Iranian and Canadian citizenship, allegedly committed suicide in prison last February, a fortnight after his arrest.
In September, the head of Iran's environment department, Isa Kalantari, called for clarification on the fate of the environmental activists. "We are not asking for their release or for their execution, we just want their fate to be clarified. This is part of their citizenship rights," he said.
(With inputs from agencies.)