Dear National Geographic: Please Tell the Real Story of Wildlife Conservation in Iran

I grew up loving National Geographic. My father, Kavous Seyed-Emami, a prominent sociologist in Iran and passionate conservationist, was a subscriber to the magazine when we were kids. My brother and I would eagerly leaf through its pages, keeping an eye out for any mention of Iran.

After decades of working on preserving Iran’s natural heritage, the Revolutionary Guards suddenly arrested my father in January 2018. They didn’t tell our family why. He was held in solitary confinement and had no access to counsel. Two weeks later, we learned that he had died while held for interrogations in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

The Iranian Judiciary refused to heed international calls to launch an impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding my father’s death, which officials claimed was a suicide. Instead of seeking the facts or evidence, state-funded media outlets ran smear campaigns claiming he was a spy while refusing to allow us to respond.

We weren’t allowed to conduct an independent autopsy and while grieving my father’s death, were pressured to quickly bury him. One year later, we don’t have any verifiable evidence of anything other than his arrest and death in state custody; we don’t even know the exact date of his passing. On top of all of this, my mother Maryam Mombeini has been banned from leaving Iran to Canada, where we are currently based.

Eight other conservationists were arrested around the time of my father’s arrest. They all worked for the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), a non-profit organization that had been licensed to operate in Iran by the government, with the primary goal of saving the Asiatic Cheetah, which are on the brink of extinction with less than 50 left alive in the world.

They have been held mostly in solitary confinement and without access to counsel for the past year under trumped-up security charges and are facing severe prison sentences. This remains the case despite three major state agencies including the country’s Intelligence Ministry contesting the Revolutionary Guards’ claim that they engaged in espionage.

This story has generated international calls for an independent investigation into my father’s death and for a fair trial for his imprisoned colleagues with full access to counsel of their choice. By now, most prominent conservation organizations have also spoken out on this issue.

This is the state of wildlife conservation in Iran, which is why I was so disappointed to see no mention of my father or his colleagues in a recent National Geographic article about wildlife conservation in Iran.

In “From poachers to protectors, meet the rangers of Masjed Mountain” by Kayleigh E. Long published on March 7, 2019, National Geographic has completely ignored the cases of my father and his colleagues. They didn’t get a single mention.

The article is not only irresponsible and infuriating; it is dangerous for not portraying the biggest ongoing story about wildlife conservation in Iran. By failing to mention this important context, National Geographic’s piece is playing into the hands of those who are oppressing conservationists by enabling them to avoid accountability and sweep this story under the rug.

It’s never too late to right a wrong. I strongly believe this article should be revised by adding this important context, and for National Geographic to release a statement in support of fellow wildlife and their fellow welfare advocates, animal protectionists, and environmentalists still in prison.