Iranians Lament Loss of Top Environmentalist From Governmental Post
Western-Educated Kaveh Madani Had Returned to Iran to “Help” Fix Country’s Environmental Issues
Iranian officials and journalists have taken to social media to bemoan the resignation of the young and idealistic deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE), Kaveh Madani.
“Today I heard from a reliable source that Kaveh Madani… has left Iran,” tweeted lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi on April 16, 2018. “His wife, who was banned from leaving the country, was allowed to leave as well. This is a lesson for Iranian experts living abroad!”
“It might be a simple thing for you to resign and leave, but for us it means the extinction of the last flickers of hope,” tweeted Iranian journalist Nahid Molavi that same day.
Madani, 37, reportedly announced his resignation while he was abroad with his wife. It’s unclear whether the Western-educated Iranian citizen will return to Iran.
On April 15 he tweeted a poem by Iranian poet Hooshang Ebtehaj about keeping hope alive “even if the world is taken over by evil.”
Two days later he complained about the smear campaign that had been launched against him in Iran.
“Yes, the accused man left the country where cyber bullies attack science, knowledge and expertise and build conspiracy theories to blame and convict someone for all the problems,” tweeted Madani on April 17.
“They have learned well that it is much easier to place blame, to find enemies and to catch spies than accept responsibility and cooperate to eliminate problems,” he added.
Madani had previously expressed optimism about working in Iran during a December 2017 interview with the Tehran Times.
“There are a lot of people abroad, waiting and watching closely to see what’s going to happen,” said Madani. “If I succeed, we might see more people coming back to help the government.”
News of Madani’s departure comes less than two months after he was arrested in February 2018 along with several other environmentalists in a crackdown on environmentalists around the country.
Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) interrogated Madani in Tehran’s Evin Prison for at least two days before releasing him.
The right-wing Iranian news site Tabnak reported on April 16 that Madani had “encountered serious problems at work” and “it’s unlikely he would return anytime soon!”
Madani’s resignation was accepted by the DOE’s director, Vice President Isa Kalandari, according to Tabnak.
A former professor at Imperial College, London, Madani had returned to Iran in September 2017 to join the DOE. He is credited with introducing the 100-day “No Waste” program to encourage Iranians to fight environmental damage by producing less trash.
Hardliners Use Photo to Launch Smear Campaign
According to the reformist Ensaf News site, Madani’s resignation “came after extremist news outlets published his photos and attacked him while he was on a business trip abroad.”
On March 31, the site’s editor-in-chief Ali-Asghar Shafieian criticized conservatives for publishing a photo that showed Madani dancing at a private party with a woman who was not wearing the hijab.
“We still don’t know how to treat our experts,” Shafieian wrote. “The poor guy is an environmental specialist and, based on what I’ve heard, he’s good at his work. So what if there’s a published photo of him dancing?”
He added: “Let me ask you this: Doesn’t [Carlos] Queiroz, the head coach of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s national football [soccer] team, drink alcohol? Doesn’t he dance, too?… For how long are we going to interfere in the private lives of individuals without giving priority to their work and expertise?”
On March 31, Tasnim, a news site closely affiliated with the IRGC, posted the photo and claimed it was taken at a building owned by the Iranian government in Malaysia.
The following day Madani tweeted the flags of countries he had traveled to with the statement, “I have not had the opportunity to visit Malaysia for personal pleasure or business.” He did not directly address the photo.
The IRGC arrested Madani shortly after detaining several current and former staff members of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF), an Iranian non-profit organization.
The PHWF’s Iranian Canadian managing director Kavous Seyed-Emami died in Evin Prison on February 9 under suspicious circumstances. Calls by his family and UN officials for an independent investigation into his death and the crackdown on environmentalists in Iran have gone unheeded.
At least 13 environmentalists who were arrested in the crackdown that began in January 2018 remain in detention in Tehran including Iranian American Morad Tahbaz, Sam Rajabi, Niloufar Bayani, Amir-Hossein Khaleghi, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar and Sepideh Kashani.
Six other environmentalists have been detained in the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas since late February 2018: Morteza Arianejad, Hassan Ragh, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Alireza Farhadzadeh and Aref and Hassan Zare (brothers).
“The brain drain will create a drought in science and thinking in our country and if it continues our civilization will die,” tweeted Tehran-based cleric Abolfazl Najafi Tehrani on April 16.
“Kaveh Madani is an example of thousands of experts who have been forced to emigrate, have been physically eliminated or forced to sit at home,” he added. “If this trend continues, Iran will face serious danger.”