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Imprisoned environmentalist Niloufar Bayani published the following letter in Etemad newspaper. Unofficial translation is by IEC volunteers.

She brings a scientific approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and spillover viruses in general, exposing how conspiracy theories stem from a human-centered and unscientific viewpoint.

Bayani's letter is a reflection of how imprisoned dissidents of all kinds continue to struggle to affect things from behind bars, and why the people of Iran and the world need these leaders to be free and bring their experience and expertise to bear on the urgent crossroads facing Iran.

In the early days of the corona pandemic, the news was full of "Earth's breathing after human quarantine", "nature's revenge", "return of blue sky to polluted cities". Every time I talked to my parents, they told me about the pictures of wild animals that were walking without fear in the streets of usually crowded cities. For me, the most interesting part of the news were the articles that speculated about the change in the relationship between man and nature. That man, faced with a huge crisis caused by an ordinary virus, will finally come to his senses and review his destructive relationship with the nature.

More than two years and 100 days have passed since COVID-19 [began], but there is no news of a change in attitude towards the nature. I tell myself that maybe there is no opportunity to act differently yet, maybe something has been stirred in people's minds that will emerge later.

I talked to 25 people around me about this. 25 women with an average age of 45 years, each of whom was or is active in one of the political and social spheres. I ask them if the COVID epidemic has had an effect on the relationship between man and nature? The result is unbelievable. I quickly realized that basically the problem is something else. It is not whether man has learned a lesson from mistreatment of nature, that severe destruction of nature will eventually affect him or not! Rather, what has changed is people's view of man's wrestling against nature.

It seems that the globalization of COVID has reinforced the power of human technology over natural forces more than before. It is true that the possibility of the virus being man-made in a human laboratory has not been completely ruled out and many scientists are still not convinced by China's answers about the origin of this virus, but what is interesting is that 17 out of the same 25 people believe that the coronavirus was completely man-made. What is woven into the fabric of the belief in the laboratory origin of this emerging virus is the power of man and his advanced technology. That by engineering a small virus, man can destroy everything and rebuild it, change economic and social relations and cleanse the earth's population so that future generations will be safe from the weakness of the victims of the virus.

There are many conspiracy theories among them: this [should sound] an alarm. Everything starts from man and ends with man in a space devoid of any other force. I ask myself, what about other virus epidemics that have killed many times in human history? Why must this time be the villain behind the story? And will the same hypotheses be raised for monkey pox and Crimean- Congo fever? There is also this image that the process of evolution is now progressing in human laboratories, and in the era of human rule over other species (Anthropocene), human decisions have replaced the laws of nature through technology. Human-centeredness is so fixed in our thinking that nature is more and more removed from the scene of our minds.

We all have the right to raise our hypotheses and look for answers. I recently read a book that examined the coronavirus conspiracy theories and provided scientific answers for each one: "Planet of Viruses" written by Carl Zimmer, translated and updated by Kave Faiz Elahi. This book, which looks at history from the perspective of these small creatures, is a good guide for a better understanding of viral epidemics and its long history. As stated in the translator's introduction, while humans appeared on the earth only 300,000 years ago, "Viruses have been present on this planet nearly four billion years before the newly arrived humans and have complete control over all the details of life in it." They are even present in the human genome. The DNA of each of us contains approximately 100,000 pieces of DNA inserted by retroviruses from the HIV group, to the extent that some of our body's functions are dependent on these viral DNA strands. (For example, some viral proteins play a role in embryo formation.)

We humans are disturbing the balance in the last untouched places of this planet. We have left no room for other forms of life. We destroy their habitats, we eat all kinds of animals and plants, algae and bacteria, we treat wildlife as a human-managed zoo. We are changing the climate of the earth, we are separating domestic animals from nature, and we are cramming thousands upon thousands of them together in livestock farms, poultry farms, and huge industrial pools, and by doing this, we are creating an environment where viruses can mix well and new types and strains appear. We buy and sell wild animals along with all their pathogens in our markets.

Our air, ground, rail, and shipping routes are so vast and complex that we provide a route that a virus could not imagine for millions of years, to cross in a few hours. We have turned ourselves and our domestic animals into the feathers and feet of diseases and we carry them around the globe in our bodies.

We are not even honest with ourselves. Some of us still depend on hunting wild animals for protein, and some of us are cursing the first group that caused the transmission of the disease that the quarantine has disrupted our trips to the seashore. We consider ourselves so separate from nature that we forget that many of our diseases are shared with other animals: influenza came to us from birds; HIV from our closest relatives, gorillas and chimpanzees; Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) from camels and measles from cows. We are almost certain that the coronavirus, i.e. SARS-COV-2, has spread from bats to a mammal species, i.e. dog or pangolin, and then to humans. Most of our viruses can also infect birds and infect other mammals. When we want everything from nature for ourselves, we also take the diseases of other creatures. More precisely, we make ourselves of those viruses, etc., so that they can be spread all over the world through us.

As long as we interfere in the natural course and life of animals and other living beings and selfishly make them a part of our lives, we have to expect more and more new diseases and pandemics. If the way humans deal with nature does not change, maybe the new century will be the century of nature's revenge on humans.