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Environmentalist Resigns From Official Post Amid Smear Campaign

Kaveh Madani, deputy of Iran's environmental agency.
Kaveh Madani, deputy of Iran's environmental agency.

A prominent Iranian scientist and deputy head of the Islamic Republic’s Department of Environment has apparently resigned from his post while abroad after being detained in connection with allegations of espionage against other environmentalists.

Citing a “reliable source,” reformist MP Mahmoud Sadeghi tweeted that Kaveh Madani and his wife had left the country after his wife’s travel ban was lifted and that Madani had resigned from his post. Ensafnews agency is also reporting on the scientist’s resignation.

A former professor of environmental management at Imperial College London, in 2017 Madani took the rare step of returning to Iran to serve as deputy head of the Department of Environment, and has been called a “symbol of expat return” under the Rouhani administration.

Shortly after arriving in Iran in September last year, Madani told the English-language Tehran Times that many Iranians abroad were "waiting and watching closely to see what's going to happen,” adding, "If I succeed, we might see more people coming back to help the government.”

“I'm the representative of a generation who left the country and the whole country is complaining about losing this generation and brain drain," he told the Tehran Times in December 2017. He also tweeted at the time: "I have returned with the hope of creating #hope.”

But just seven months in, Madani was detained after several prominent environmentalists, including Kavous Seyyed-Emami, founder of Iran’s Wildlife Heritage, were arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence unit and charged with spying for foreign countries.

Later, it was officially announced that Seyyed-Emami had committed suicide behind bars in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. The reason for Madani’s detention and his connection to the “environmental espionage” case were never officially disclosed.

In late March, several conservative news outlets published photos allegedly showing Madani dancing and drinking at a festival in Malaysia, and argued that someone who drinks alcohol should not hold such a high office. Madani insisted that he had never even been to Malaysia.

Sources close to Madani say the alleged suicide of his colleague Kavous Seyyed-Emami and the circulation of these photos convinced Madani it was unwise to return to Iran and continue in his post.

In his tweet, Sadeghi called Madani’s resignation a “wakeup call for elite Iranian expats.”

Earlier, Madani had admitted that his relatives and friends were against his decision to accept an official position in the Islamic Republic, describing it as “lunacy.”

While serving in Iran, Madani launched the campaign known as “Bi-Zobaleh,” (Persian for "no rubbish") focusing on the issue of waste. Launched on Dec. 22, the campaign was aimed at raising awareness and fostering a sense of responsibility in the community about waste management with the slogan "Let's Start with Ourselves.” The campaign was set to continue through April 2, National Nature Day in Iran.

Madani studied in Tabriz in northern Iran before getting his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California.

The water expert's departure comes in the midst of a historical draught in Iran, which has been devastating for the environment.

Reporting by AFP, Tehran Times, Radio Farda Persian