A Iranian-Canadian professor and environmental activist has died in an Iranian prison after he was arrested on what observers call “trumped-up charges.”
Kavous Seyed Emami’s death was announced Saturday on the Twitter feed of his son, singer Ramin Seyed Emami.
The singer said that his father was arrested on Jan. 24 and his mother Maryam was informed of the death on Friday.
“The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” he wrote. “They say he committed suicide. I still can’t believe this.”
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told The Canadian Press that it is “aware of these reports.”
International affairs expert Elliott Tepper said that, in cases like these, “suicide” means “they were beaten to death or tortured to death in prison.”
Emami was a professor of Islamic Studies and Political Science at Imam Sadegh University. He gave a talk last fall at the University of Lethbridge’s Prentice Institute. The topic was the “theoretical and political implications of conceptualizing nations and ethnicities.”
He is also listed as managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which works to protect threatened wildlife in Iran.
Iran Wire writer Arash Azizi told CTV News Channel Saturday that Emami was among a number of environmental activists who were arrested on “trumped-up charges” of espionage. He said a prosecutor had said publicly that environmental activism was being used as a cover for spying.
Former federal cabinet minister and Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney shared a link to a newspaper report about Emami’s death.
“Another Canadian dead at the hands of the Iranian theocratic dictatorship,” Kenney wrote on Twitter. The Canadian government, Kenney said, “should not be validating the brutal regime by ‘normalizing’ relations.”
The death is drawing comparisons to the 2003 case of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was charged with espionage and then raped, tortured and beaten to death in Evin prison. Her death led to an escalation of tensions between Canada and Iran.
In 2012, Canada abruptly closed its embassy in Tehran. At the time, Conservative Foreign Minister John Baird said that it was due to fear for the safety of diplomats and Iran’s non-compliance with United Nations resolutions over its nuclear program.
During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals said they wanted to normalize ties with Iran. That didn’t change, even after Iran jailed retired Canadian-Iranian professor Homa Hoodfar in June 2016 and released her four months later.
Stephane Dion, who was foreign affairs minister at the time, said after Hoodfar’s release that the government’s engagement with Iran was “key” to getting her home and that “isolation would not have helped under these circumstances.”
Even after at least 21 people died and hundreds were arrested for protesting in Iran last month, a spokesperson for current Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland indicated that the Liberals’ policy had not changed.
Tepper said he believes it wouldn’t have mattered to Iran whether their consular officials on the ground were trying to assist Emami. “I think they would act as they’re acting in any event,” he said.
With a report from CTV’s Glen McGregor and The Canadian Press