March 25 marks the United Nation’s International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members. It is an important opportunity to demand justice and safety for current and former UN staff working for the peaceful and sustainable development of humankind. The ISC works closely with the UN to champion and protect the work of scientists in advancing human and environmental wellbeing, and we stand in solidarity with all our UN colleagues who remain detained and missing around the world.
When scientists are detained or imprisoned because their area of research is seen to threaten the agenda of ruling authorities, or because of former connections to the UN, this constitutes a gross violation of the principle of scientific freedom and responsibility. The ISC’s Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) works at the intersection between science and human rights to uphold this critical principle, monitoring a portfolio of cases, many of which the Council shares with the Scholars in Prison Project and partner organization Scholars at Risk (SAR). SAR is a network of over 600 higher education institutions and affiliate members working to promote academic freedom and protect threatened scholars.
This year, the CFRS and SAR are highlighting the case of Niloufar Bayani, a former UN staff member imprisoned in Iran.
Ms Bayani is an Iranian researcher and conservationist, was arrested in Iran in January 2018 while conducting field research on the endangered Asiatic cheetah with her colleagues of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) and is currently detained at Evin prison in Tehran.
From 2012 to 2017, Ms. Bayani worked at the UN Environment Program (UNEP) Geneva office, where she focused on supporting the resilience of communities facing climate crises and disasters. She also authored a number of UNEP publications. Ms. Bayani’s passion for conserving Iran’s unique species led her back to her home country to work with the PWHF.
In 2018, Iranian authorities arrested Ms. Bayani alongside eight of her PWHF colleagues. Nearly two years after her arrest, on 23November 2019, authorities convicted and sentenced Ms. Bayani to ten years in prison on charges of “contacts with the U.S. enemy state” and “gaining illegitimate income.” According to reports, authorities only verbally informed her of her verdict, denying her a written copy, and ordered her to return earnings from the UN.
Ms. Bayani’s wrongful arrest, conviction, and sentence, suggest a troubling disregard for international standards relating to academic freedom, scientific freedom, and the right to due process and fair trial. Moreover, Ms. Bayani’s conviction relating to her work with the UN demonstrates an urgent need for greater protection for current and former UN personnel.
On 21 March this year, Ms. Bayani, along with most of her PWHF colleagues, was reportedly released on a temporary furlough for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. She is scheduled to be returned to prison on the 25 March, coinciding with the UN International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
The CFRS and SAR urge Iranian authorities to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Niloufar Bayani.
ISC Members, partners and the wider public are asked to stand in solidarity with missing and detained UN staff and support for Niloufar Bayani by signing this SAR letter.
Scholars at Risk is an international network of dedicated higher education institutions (members) and associations (affiliates) dedicated to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom around the world. The ISC is an affiliate member of the network.
Image by Robert Klank on Unsplash