Mother Denies Espionage Charges Against Son Detained in Crackdown on Environmental NGO in Iran
The mother of Sam Rajabi, who was arrested in a state-led crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Iran including the one managed by Kavous Seyed-Emami, who died in custody, said her son has been focused on his career and would never betray his country.
“My son was not a spy,” Rajabi’s mother, Lili Houshmand Afshar, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 11, 2018. “He had the opportunity to live abroad but he preferred to stay and serve his own country. My son is instinctively honorable. He’s not a spy.”
Rajabi and several other people including Seyed-Emami were arrested in late January. The day after Seyed-Emami’s death, which officials claim was a suicide, 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.
A day later, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said NGOs working in sectors including health, women’s issues and the environment were being investigated, alleging they’re operating under a “cloud of ambiguity.”
Rajabi is one of several current and former staff members at the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF) who were arrested on January 24 and 25, 2018. Others include Seyed-Emami, Houman Jowkar, Niloufar Bayani, Morad Tahbaz, Taher Ghadirian, Amir-Hossein Khaleghi and Sepideh Kashani.
Seyed-Emami was PHWF’s managing director. News of his death was announced on February 10 on Twitter by his son, Ramin, who said his mother was told by judicial authorities that Seyed-Emami had taken his own life.
“This individual [Seyed-Emami] knew that many had confessed against him and he himself had made some confessions, too. But unfortunately, he committed suicide,” said Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi on February 11.
Rajabi’s mother told CHRI that the authorities have not allowed her to contact her son.
“I have absolutely no news about my son situation,” she said. “He has not made any contact since he was detained. I went to Evin Prison twice. First, the authorities didn’t tell me anything convincing. They said, if your son does a bad thing, wouldn’t you punish him? I said, I wouldn’t punish him; I’d talk to him. The second time I went there they wouldn’t let me in. They said they would contact me.”
Rajabi’s late father, Parviz Rajabi (1939-2010), was a prominent scholar of Iranian history.
Afshar added: “Sam stopped working for PHWF three and a half years ago. For two years he worked for an international Japanese company on environmental projects, the most important of which was the Anzali Lagoon [in northern Iran]. When his contract ran out, he was doing some translations for a short while until he could find a more permanent job.”
“Agents came to our house at 10 at night on January 24 and took Sam away at 5 in the morning along with some papers and books, including articles he and his father had written. The agents didn’t tell us which agency they were from,” she said.
Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE) in charge of international affairs, has also been arrested according to reformist MP Mahmoud Sadeghi.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, the former head of the DOE and current vice president for women and family affairs, expressed concern about the recent events but refused to comment.
“I prefer not to make any statements at this time but we are very worried,” she said on February 11.
Hossein Vahabzadeh, the founder of the Kavi Kong, which runs nature appreciation classes for children in Iran, called on the current head of the DOE, Isa Kalantari, to act quickly to prevent further harm to the department and the detainees.
“Mr. Kalantari, since when is information about the Persian cheetah classified?” wrote Vahabzadeh on his Facebook page on February 11.
He continued: “These detainees are some of the best and brightest children of this land who were concerned with nothing but plants and animals. Amir-Hossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian and Houman Jowkar were constantly running around mountains and fields to try to protect the disjointed natural lands of the country. They don’t deserve the accusations against them.”
“Do something before it’s too late, before we hear more terrible news like that of dear Dr. Seyed-Emami’s death,” he added.