Iranian-Canadian Academic Dies in Tehran Prison Under Interrogation

UPDATE 1500 GMT: Authorities have arrested Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the Environment Ministry.

Madani is a former associate professor of Imperial College London.

Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami (pictured) has died in a Tehran prison under interrogation.

Iranian authorities declared that Seyed-Emami, arrested on January 24, committed suicide on Friday by hanging himself — a claim that they also made about two of the detainees who died in custody during nationwide protests in late December and early January.

Human rights activists have called for an investigation into the three deaths. They also said officials must stop harassing Seyed-Emami’s family, pressuring them into conducting a burial before the completion of an independent autopsy and medical investigation of the cause of death.

Seyed-Emami’s Ramin, an Iranian musician, first posted the news of his father’s death on social media: “The news…is impossible to fathom.”

Seyed-Emami, 63, was a professor of sociology at Imam Sadeq University and the managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation.

The day after the academic’s death, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi said Iranian security forces had arrested environmental activists: “These individuals were gathering classified information in strategic
fields under the guise of scientific and environmental projects.”

At least nine other staff members and executives of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation were also taken into custody, according to a relative of one of the detainees. One, Morad Tahbaz, is an Iranian-American dual national; another is Niloufar Bayani, an advisor to the UN Environmental Program in Geneva for five years.

Security agents warned families that if news of the arrests reaches the media, the detainees will be treated more harshly.

“Since their arrest, there has been no phone contact and they have not had access to a lawyer. We really don’t know what they are accused of,” said the relative of one of the detainees.

Seyed-Emami is the second Iranian-Canadian who has died in custody in Iran. In July 2003, photographer Zahra Kazemi died under suspicious circumstances while being interrogated in Evin Prison. Her case remains unsolved.
lawyers and Canadian officials.

At least 12 dual and foreign nationals and foreign permanent residents are being held in Iranian prisons.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Millions of Iranians celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic revolution:

    Foreign news agencies and propaganda stations are claiming “hundreds of thousands” have attended, but they usually diminish the numbers and only refer to the size of crowds in the capital, Tehran. In previous years, they claimed “tens of thousands”, a reflection of the fact that this year’s rallies are the largest ever,

      • It isn’t really a complaint. I just think that these news agencies only report what goes on in the capital and ignore the rallies occurring in 1000 other cities across Iran. Of course, they don’t have the capabilities to cover this, unlike domestic media. About half a million rallied in Tehran according to my sources, with another 3-5 million across the country. These are very broad estimates, could be more could be less.

        • “Millions” is a default label for State outlets. No one — yourself included — knows how many people rallied today.

      • Details released on the alleged “suicide” of Prof. Seyed Emami:

        According to sources close to Fars news agency, the academic was accused of passing on details of Iran’s water resources and environmental issues to foreign intelligence agencies (shortages of water were widely seen as contributing to the recent unrest). The Fars report goes on to suggest that Emami was so shocked about the evidence of his involvement when confronted that he took his own life rather than be indicted and tried as a spy. It claims he hanged himself in his prison cell with a piece of his own clothing.

        • I would expect nothing less from Fars than to put out this propaganda line, both on the reason for holding a prominent academic as a political prisoner and for trying to explain away his death in custody.

  2. Iran environmentalist’s death was suicide:

    “He was one of the defendants in a spying case and unfortunately he committed suicide in prison since he knew that many had made confessions against him and because of his own confessions,” Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi told the ILNA news agency.”

    A separate report by Fars (above) claimed he passed on information about Iran’s environmental vulnerabilities – that have the potential to undermine the authorities – to foreign intelligence agencies.

    The Iran Sociology Association, however, has questioned the official account of his death. “The information published about him is not believable and we expect officials to respond,” it said in a statement.

  3. Admitting there are spies among scientists and academics in Iran is a major embarrassment for the authorities. They tried to claim Shahram Amiri was not a spy, but really a hero, until it became revealed to everyone (thanks to Hillary Clinton’s email hack) that he was working for the CIA.

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