CBC: Hayley Lapalme still can't wrap her head around why her friend Niloufar Bayani is behind bars in an Iranian prison.
It's been a year since the former resident of Montreal and Toronto was arrested and accused of espionage.
"To learn this person, who had a wonderful presence in our community here [in Toronto], is now in a prison cell — it's stunning, really," Lapalme told As It Happens host Carol Off.
Bayani is a former McGill biology student who graduated in 2009. She later worked for the United Nations Environment Programme. She was living in Toronto when she met Lapalme.
She had returned to Iran to do environmental work, when she was arrested in January and accused of espionage.
She has been behind bars in Evin prison outside Tehran ever since.
Nearly a year since her arrest, Lapalme wants more people to know who Bayani is — and to fight for her release.
"Niloufar is this person who has this lightness, goodness, intelligence and generosity about her that is really contagious," Lapalme said.
"She really brings out the best in people."
As It Happens reached out to McGill University for comment, but did not receive a response. University spokesperson Chris Chapello told the Montreal Gazette that McGill is "aware of the situation and has been in contact with the Canadian authorities."
Researching Iran's endangered cheetahs
Bayani was always passionate about doing environmental field work anywhere in the world, Lapalme said.
She studied zebra mussels in Montreal and researched marine life in Beliz, she said.
Lapalme said her friend moved back to Iran to do field work with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.
That's when the trouble started.
At the time of her arrest, Lapalme said Bayani was setting up camera traps to track Asiatic cheetahs, an endangered species in Iran.
But to Iranian authorities, the act amounted to spying.
Bayani was charged with "sowing corruption on Earth," for which she could face the death penalty. She has not yet had a trial.
"For the kind of work that we can practice freely and that is appreciated here, it's work that's being criminalized now in Iran," Lapalme said >>>