Germany's most senior human rights official has expressed "shock" at the recent sentencing in Iran of six members of a local wildlife conservation group to lengthy prison terms on charges of espionage.
Baerbel Kofler, a lawmaker and the German federal government's commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, also called for the activists' immediate release.
"I am shocked," Kofler said on November 22 of the verdict against the members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, according to dpa. "They peacefully and actively took a stand for animal and species protection in Iran."
Relatives reportedly said the six conservationists were ordered by the Tehran Revolutionary Court to spend between six and 10 years in prison in the internationally criticized case.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the defendants were informed of the verdict on November 20.
The 63-year-old managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed Emami, died in custody under disputed circumstances after his arrest.
Iran's authorities called that a suicide, a claim that has been challenged by Emami's family and acquaintances.
Authorities said the group had collected classified information about Iran's strategic areas under the pretext of carrying out environmental and scientific projects, including with the use of camera traps.
Iran's courts rarely publicize verdicts, but the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said on November 21 that the defendants had been sentenced for "contacts with the U.S. enemy state."
Morad Tahbaz -- an Iranian, U.S., and British citizen -- and Niloufar Bayani received 10-year prison sentences, Taher Ghadirian and Houman Jokar got eight years, and Amirhossein Khaleghi and Sepideh Kashani got six years, relatives said.
Two other wildlife conservationists held since January 2018 have yet to be handed verdicts, the CHRI said.
HRW called the accusations "ridiculous," and Amnesty International cited evidence that the conservationists were tortured to extract forced "confessions."
The CHRI's executive director called them "sham convictions."