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Iranian-Canadian environmentalist's death in prison raises questions

12 February 2018, 07:00 | Winifred Adams

King Raam @kingraam

King Raam

The death of Kavous Seyed-Emami, who was imprisoned by Iranian authorities in January, was reported by his son, Iranian musician Raam Emami, who said his mother was informed of Seyed-Emami's death on February 9. "I still can't believe this", Ramin, a well-known singer, said.

Ghaemi said Seyed-Emami was a founder of the group, which he called "the leading environmental NGO in Iran", and he was detained along with almost a dozen other members.

The Iran Sociology Association, of which Seyed-Emami was a member, also questioned the official cause of death. "The information published about him is not believable and we expect officials to respond", the statement reads in part. He was still active in the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, whose website describes its work as "public awareness campaigns and projects to protect endangered species in Iran".

Worldwide affairs expert Elliott Tepper told Reuters that "suicide" cases like these often means "they were beaten or tortured to death in prison". It singled out Tahbaz, who is a board member, alleging that he was a big-game hunter who was also involved in "construction ventures in the United States of America and the Zionist regime, [and is] also known to have been builder and manager of gambling houses". In November, the conservative-linked Tasnim news agency accused Tahbaz of being a big-game hunter who was trying to seize control of national park land in northern Iran.

He wrote that the authorities said his 63-year-old father had committed suicide.

"The rising number of deaths in Iranian prisons is an unfolding tragedy that must stop now", said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of CHRI.

Iranian officials claimed Ghanbari (23) and Vahid Heydari (22)-both of whom died in custody after being arrested in the recent protests-were drug addicts.

King Raam
King Raam @kingraam

"He was one of the best professors". He loved Iran and the environment.

He had taught sociology for decades at Tehran's Imam Sadegh University, considered a hard-line institution where future leaders of the Iranian establishment are trained.

Iranian lawmaker Ali Shakourirad, head of the reformist Islamic Union Party, called on justice officials in a tweet to be more transparent, saying that the death had "caused a wave of questions and concerns among the public".

"The incomplete and vague information of the Tehran prosecutor added more questions. Why doesn´t the judiciary give out information in time and transparently?" he wrote.

Iranian authorities must also immediately stop harassing Seyed-Emami's family and cease pressuring them into conducting a burial before the completion of an independent autopsy and medical investigation of the cause of death.

The case recalls that of Homa Hoodfar, a 65-year-old retired anthropology professor from Montreal, who was detained in Iran in for several months in 2016 and indicted on unknown charges.

Canada has not had an embassy in Iran since 2012, and the two countries have no formal diplomatic ties. After a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2015, Canada announced the lifting of economic sanctions on the country and said it was reviewing its wider relations.

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