A year after the mysterious death of a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmentalist at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, his wife is still barred from leaving the country to join her family in Vancouver.
The 64-year old Iranian-Canadian sociology professor, Kavous Seyyed-Emami, died in prison on February 8, 2018, two weeks after his arrest.
Authorities claimed he committed suicide, but many in Iran, including his relatives, and human rights defenders abroad challenged that claim. No independent investigation was allowed.
Meanwhile, several other environmentalists were also detained during the early months of 2018 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) most-feared Intelligence Agency.
Eight environmentalists are still at Evin, at least four of them charged with espionage against Iran, which is punishable by death. After a year in “temporary detention”, the first session of their court hearing was held on January 30 behind closed doors.
Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Rajabi, and Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, members of local environmental group the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation appeared in court for the opening of the trial on accusations of spying.
Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which is overseeing the trial, did not allow the defendants’ lawyers to review the indictment prior to the session.
Notorious hard-line Judge Abdolghassem Salavati of Branch 15 also restricted the defendants’ choices for lawyers to a list approved by the head of the judiciary. During the trial, one of the detainees interrupted the session, claiming they had been tortured and coerced into making a false confession, a source confirmed to Human Rights Watch.
While the judiciary and IRGC insist that the legal case against the detainees is related to “security and intelligence affairs,” President Hassan Rouhani's deputy and the head of the Department of Environment (DoE), Isa Kalantari, as well as the Intelligence Ministry have repeatedly said there is no evidence pointing to the involvement of the detainees to espionage.
In response, Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi explicitly cautioned them to stay away from judicial affairs and stop commenting on "non-executive" matters.
Seyyed-Emami's son, Ramin, has reiterated that whoever detained his father was responsible for his death and should be held accountable.
Ramin Seyyed-Emami also called on the judiciary to release his mother, who remains barred from leaving Iran despite the expiration of the travel ban that was imposed on her in December 2018.
“We only want to exercise our constitutional right to defend ourselves against the accusations made regarding our father,” Ramin said in a phone interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 7.
Seyyed-Emami's wife, Maryam Mombeini, has been barred from leaving the country despite the "undisputed fact" that she had never been involved in her late husband's professional activities.
A few weeks after Seyyed-Emami’s death, Ramin Seyyed-Emami disclosed that his mother had been detained and interrogated for three hours before being released.
"My mother was threatened and warned against speaking to the media about her husband's death," Ramin Seyyed-Emami said. "They told her, ‘Talk to the media, and we will arrest you, as well.’"
Furthermore, Mombeini’s legal counsel, Abouzar Nasrollahi, asserts that depriving her client of leaving Iran is blatantly against Iranian laws and regulations.
“The authorities have said that the [travel] ban on Ms. Mombeini expired on December 22, 2018, but she is still not allowed to leave the country until the ban is rescinded by the judiciary’s security office because they are the ones who issued it,” Nasrollahi told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on February 6.
In the meantime, Iranian judicial officials have not publicly explained why they barred Seyed-Emami’s widow from leaving the country or why the ban remains in place despite having officially expired. Family members of detainees held under politically motivated charges in Iran are routinely threatened and pressured by state agencies not to speak publicly about the cases.
According to the New York-based CHRI, one of the Tehran-based lawyers representing the family has revealed that no final autopsy has been made public but a preliminary state medical examiner’s report "showed evidence of an injection on his skin" as well as “bruises on different parts of the body.”
Iran’s State Prisons Organization and the judiciary, as well as prison officials, are responsible for the health and wellbeing of detainees, CHRI reiterates, adding that one year after Seyed-Emami’s death, no one has been charged, prosecuted, or held accountable for it.
Iran has also ignored international calls for an independent and impartial investigation into Seyyed-Emami’s death, for his wife to be allowed to leave Iran, and for his colleagues to be given a fair trial.