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Iran frees jailed conservationists who worked to save cheetahs


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has released two conservationists who worked to save the endangered Asiatic cheetah before spending five years in prison on espionage charges, local media reported on Tuesday.

A report by the Tehran newspaper Etemad said authorities had released Niloufar Bayani and Houman Jowkar on Monday night, who were part of a group of five activists convicted in 2019. They were among more than 2,000 prisoners granted amnesty on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The United Nations Environment Program welcomed the release of Bayani and Jowkar, who are members of the nonprofit Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Etemad said their colleagues Sepideh Kashani and Taher Ghadirain were also on the amnesty list. Authorities released Sam Rajabi, another member of the group, in 2023.

The conservationists were arrested in 2018, along with Kavous Seyed-Emami, the 64-year-old founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Seyed-Emami, an Iranian-Canadian dual citizen, died while awaiting trial under disputed circumstances.

Bayani was sentenced to a 10-year prison term in 2019, while the others received six-to-eight-year terms on espionage charges, which were internationally criticized.