Eight of nine Iranian environmentalists seized in January 2018 — Kavous Seyed-Emami (bottom right) was soon found dead in Evin Prison

Iran’s authorities have dropped a death penalty charge against four of eight environmentalists seized in January 2018.

State news agency IRNA reported the development on Sunday. Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, a lawyer who represents some of the defendants, said, “The charge of ‘corruption on earth’ was dropped in recent days….Of course their other charges still remain.”

It is unclear why the charge was dropped.

The environmentalists were initially accused of spying on military bases but the indictments in October 2018 were for corruption on earth, the highest crime under Islamic Republic law.

IRNA said three other defendants are also still accused of espionage, and another is charged with “conspiracy against national security”.

A ninth activist, Kavous Seyed Emami — a university professor, head of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Organization, and a Canadian citizen — was found death in his prison cell two weeks after the group was arrested. Iranian authorities said he committed suicide, but the academic’s family believe he was killed.

Seyed Emami’s widow Maryam Mombeini was finally allowed to leave Iran for Canada last week and was reunited with her two sons.

The eight detained environmentalists including Iranian-US-Canadian citizen Morad Tahbaz.