New push to free Morad Tahbaz, the American conservationist taken hostage in Iran while studying rare cheetahs – The Sun

THE US State Department has launched a new push to free Morad Tahbaz, the American conservationist taken hostage in Iran while studying rare cheetahs.

The State Department recently released a video about increased efforts to free Tahbaz, who was arrested in January 2018 on espionage charges.

"Today he suffers in a prison cell in Iran – and his crime? Trying to suffer an endangered species from extinction," Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran said.

"Apparently the Iranian regime is unable to distinguish between saving animals from committing espionage," Hook added.

Tahbaz, an Iranian-American, was arrested along with eight members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which he co-founded.

He also holds British citizenship, Fox reported.

Some prisoners have been freed, but three others – Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Tahbaz, remain in captivity.

Hook urged environmental groups and conservationists around the world "to join in the hundreds of conservationists, researchers, and professors from 73 nations to release Morad Tahbaz.

Jane Goodall and Leonardo DiCaprio are among those who have already called for Tahbaz's release.

"Environmentalists and conservationists around the world continue to be unjustly persecuted," DiCaprio tweeted last February.

"We must stand by those risking their lives to protect the future of our planet and its inhabitants, he added.

DiCaprio shared a petition addressing authorities in Tehran over concerns about the conservationists.

The petition has gained over 200,000 signatures.

"This is a real tragedy," Goodall said last year in a video circulating social media on the prisoners being held.

She begged the leaders of Iran for "mercy."

"I ask for your compassion, I ask for your love, as you decide their fate," Goodall said as the prisoners were to be sentenced.

Hook said in the video that Tahbaz recently had cancer, and "still suffers from serious medical problems."

"He cannot get the medical supervision he needs while in a prison cell," Hook said.

"He is at great risk to contract the coronavirus while in prison.

"We cannot allow Morad to spend 10 years in jail," Hook added.

He said since Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei, and foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif are "so active on Twitter, perhaps they can tell us why Morad should spend another day in prison."

Hook could not be immediately reached by The Sun for comment on Monday.

The State Department official also urged other countries to oppose Tahbaz being held.

"All governments who have diplomatic relations with Iran should convey their opposition to his cruel sentence," Hook said.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the release of one of the Americans held captive, Michael White.

"While we are pleased that Iran was constructive in this matter, there is more work to do," Pompeo said in a statement.

"The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones."

In a virtual meeting held by the Council for Foreign Relations last week, Hook called Tahbaz's imprisonment a "tragedy"

"Putting him in jail is a tragedy. And he’s somebody whose only crime is to try to help save an endangered species from extinction," Hook said.

"There are only fifty Asiatic cheetahs left in Iran. They’re all in Iran.

"And he was there working on conservation efforts. And the IRGC picked him up. And he was sentenced to ten years in jail," Hook said of Tahbaz.

Hook added that Tahbaz's sentencing was "condemned by the UN" and "a number of organizations," along with some "members of the Iranian government.

In the video from the State Department, Hook said Kavous Seyed-Emami, Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation co-founder, was found dead in his cell days after his arrest.

Jailers claimed he died of suicide, Hook said – but he added that "Kavous' family knows that's not true."

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