Sons of a university professor and environmentalist who suspiciously died behind bars in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison have called upon Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pressure the Iranian authorities to allow their mother to leave Iran.
Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami’s wife, Maryam Mombeini, tried to leave Iran on March 7 to join her family in Canada, but she was stopped by security agents at the airport.
Ramin and Mehran Seyed-Emami have asked the Canadian government to seriously investigate their father’s detention and death.
Kavous Seyed-Emami, a university lecturer and Canadian-Iranian environmental activist, was arrested on January 24 and declared dead 15 days later. Iran’s judiciary and Evin prison officials said he had committed suicide.
The death, as well as at least four other recent deaths at Iran’s prisons, have raised questions that are still unanswered.
His death sparked new anger in Iran over the treatment of detainees, especially after nearly 5,000 people were arrested in the wake of nationwide protests in late December and at the start of the year.
Ramin and Mehran Seyed-Emami said in a joint interview with The Associated Press that they have been speaking out despite intimidation and threats. They said they believe it is their only hope for getting their mother back to Vancouver after she was stopped at the airport March 7 and barred from leaving Iran.
Iranian authorities told the family that Seyed-Emami killed himself while in custody. But Ramin, a musician who performs under the stage name of King Raam, said he and his brother "feel that the guards in the prison are responsible directly for his death."
He said he was shown a video of his father in a cell, pacing, removing his shirt and entering the bathroom. Then, "eight hours later they came in and brought the body out of that room, so there is no footage or film of the death or how it happened," Ramin insisted.
Furthermore, Ramin noted, “It is highly suspicious” why my father was left alone for “eight long hours.”
Earlier, Iranian judiciary officials had maintained that Evin’s CCTV had documented Seyed-Emami’s suicide.
Nevertheless, a member of the Environment faction of the parliament, Ahmad Mazani, who has watched the footage, averred that the video “does not show” Seyed-Emami’s suicide.
Ramin and Mehran met with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in New York City on March 14 to urge pressure on Iran.
"She reassured us they're doing their best to get my mother home as soon as possible," Mehran said. "We are grateful for their effort but ... we need them to speak up publicly, not just privately.
"We asked for the prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, to make an official statement on behalf of the government, to pressure the Iranian government to release my mother, and to have a serious investigation into the case of my father," CBC cited Mehran as saying.
The brothers said leaving Iran without their mother was very difficult. Ramin said she implored them to board the plane and go without her.
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi alleged the professor was part of an “espionage ring” that collected information on "strategic areas."
The brothers vehemently defended his innocence. "There is no shred of evidence against him, nothing," Mehran said.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose intelligence agents are said to be responsible for arresting Emami and several other environmental activists, claims he had relayed information on the country’s missile bases to the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.
However, espionage and counterespionage operations, according to Tehran MP and deputy parliamentary speaker Ali Motahari, are the exclusive responsibility of the Intelligence Ministry and the IRGC had no legal right to interfere in such matters.
Nevertheless, Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi insisted Emami and other detained environmental activists had collaborated with foreign spy agencies.
“They installed cameras in strategic locations across the country and collected information on Iran’s sensitive sites, including missile bases,” Dolatabadi said on February 13.
Isa Kalantari, head of the Environment Department and President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy dismissed Dolatabadi’s comments, noting that environmental cameras cannot be used for espionage purposes.
“Environmental cameras that monitor leopards’ activity have a range of no more than 50 meters (roughly 55 yards),” Kalantari said.