Iranian-Canadian Academic Dies in Custody While Under Interrogations
Third Death in Custody in Iran in 40 Days, All Alleged Suicides
February 10, 2018 — A third detainee, 63-year old Iranian-Canadian Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, has died in custody in Iran, barely 17 days after his arrest and while under interrogations.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) holds the Iranian Judiciary fully responsible for the death of Seyed-Emami and calls for an immediate, international UN-led investigation into the three deaths that have occurred in custody in Iran in the past 40 days.
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 Tehran prosecutor’s office told Seyed-Emami’s wife that he committed suicide by hanging himself. They made similar and highly questionable claims regarding two other recent deaths that occured in custody in Tehran and Arak.
“The rising number of deaths in Iranian prisons is an unfolding tragedy that must stop now,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of CHRI.
“This stems from the widespread impunity of judicial and security officials who are getting away with murder, time after time. The interrogators and the judicial authorities are directly responsible for prisoners’ lives. In addition to independent investigations and an autopsy to determine the cause of death, the perpetrators must be held accountable in a transparent process.”
Seyed-Emami’s son informed the public of his father’s death on social media.
“The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” Ramin Seyed-Emami, an Iranian musician also known as King Raam, tweeted on February 10, 2018.
Ramin added that his father “was arrested on Wednesday 24 January 2018, and the news of his death was released to my mom, Maryam, on Friday the 9th of February. I still can’t believe this.”
It is unclear and highly questionable why Seyed-Emami, a professor of sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran who holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Oregon (1991), would commit suicide days after his arrest.
He was also the managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation.
“The Iranian judiciary and security agencies are not only silent about those who break the law and endanger the lives of prisoners, but in fact protect them as well,” Ghaemi said.
The deaths of several detainees in Iranian prisons following recent anti-government protests prompted a parliamentary delegation to visit Evin Prison on January 30, 2018 — six days after Seyed-Emami’s arrest.
In particular, they were to investigate the death of Sina Ghanbari who died in custody in Evin Prison on January 7, 2018, in an alleged suicide according to the official account.
The day after Seyed-Emami’s death, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that an Iranian security agency had arrested a number of people for alleged espionage.
“These individuals were gathering classified information in strategic fields under the guise of scientific and environmental projects,” Dowlatabadi claimed on February 10, without providing further details.
CHRI has learned that on the same day as Seyed-Emami’s arrest, at least nine other staff members and executives of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation were also taken into custody in Tehran, according to a relative of one of the detainees who asked not to be identified.
They included Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz (an Iranian-American dual national), Sepideh Kashani, Houman Jowkar and Taher Ghadirian. Security agents warned their families that if news of the arrests reached the media, the detainees would 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,” the informed relative added.
Seyed-Ebrahimi is the second Iranian-Canadian who has died in custody in Iran. In July 2003, photographer Zahra (Ziba) Kazemi also died under suspicious circumstances while being interrogated in Evin Prison. Her case remains unsolved despite calls for justice by lawyers and Canadian officials.
There are at least 12 dual and foreign nationals and foreign permanent residents currently being held in Iranian prisons.
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.
A week after his arrest, judicial officials claimed Ghanbari had committed suicide in the bathroom of Evin Prison’s quarantine unit on January 6, 2018. His body was delivered to his family on January 9.
“This individual [Sina Ghanbari] who committed suicide was an addict,” said Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri on January 11.
Heydari died in detention at the 12th Police Precinct in the city of Arak, Central Province, sometime between the end of December 2017 and the beginning of January 2018.
“This person [Vahid Heydari] had several criminal records for carrying drugs,” claimed Central Province Prosecutor Abbas Ghassemi on January 10.
However, local activists and family members told CHRI that one of Heydari’s relatives saw evidence of a severe blow to Heydari’s skull before his body was buried. Heydari’s family has been pressured to avoid speaking to the media.