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The move could cost the Caspian Hyrcanian forests the chance of being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The move could cost the Caspian Hyrcanian forests the chance of being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Iran’s Supreme Court Cedes Forest to Oqaf

Observers say the Supreme Court’s ruling will harm the national campaign to protect Iran’s dwindling forests against illegal logging and unrestrained development

Iran’s Supreme Court Cedes Forest to Oqaf

In a move that has raised eyebrows across the political, religious and legal spectra, the Supreme Court of Iran has ceded 5,000 hectares of the lush Caspian Hyrcanian forests to the Endowment and Charity Affairs Organizations (known commonly in Iran as Oqaf).
The news has sent tremors through environmental groups and jurists who believe it goes against the laws of the land and the policies of the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
Considered public property, natural resources (such as forests) are not and cannot be owned by a single entity. The protection of forests is a responsibility of the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization, which is opposed to the move but may be powerless to stop the verdict.
In March, Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech addressed to the country’s senior officials, “Relevant entities must protect our forests, especially the northern woodlands, against those who seek to encroach on them for any reason, regardless of how reasonable their reasons may seem.”
Speaking to the Persian daily Hamshahri, Abbasali Nobakht, deputy for forest affairs at FRWO, hoped that “in lieu of the Leader’s statements and the fact that FRWO and the Department of Environment are the only entities that manage and protect natural resources”, the court would reverse its ruling.

  A Long Story
The story goes back four years, when Mazandaran Province’s Oqaf office laid claim to a 5,000-hectare plot of the forest in Aq Mashhad, just south of Sari in Mazandaran.
Invoking Article 56 of the Forests and Ranges Law, Oqaf claimed that the land was bequeathed unto it and must be handed over to it.
“They filed a complaint but the court ruled against them because the judge said the land was part of the Caspian Hyrcanian forests and cannot be ceded to any entity,” said Mohammad Reza Aziz-Kamali, deputy for conservation and land affairs at the Mazandaran FRWO.
He added that the appeals court upheld the original ruling, compelling Oqaf to take the matter to the Supreme Court, which overruled the previous verdicts.
“Soon after the ruling, Oqaf set out to cut down the trees, which was stopped by the FRWO.
But because we don’t really have any rights to the land, Oqaf has taken legal action against us,” Aziz-Kamali said.
The official said FRWO will invoke Article 477 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows the Council of Protection of Public Assets to review and overrule the Supreme Court’s verdict in special cases.
Observers say the Supreme Court’s ruling will harm the national campaign to protect Iran’s dwindling forests against illegal logging and unrestrained development, and may even cost the Caspian Hyrcanian forests the chance of being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

 

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