On January 24, 2018, Iranian authorities reportedly arrested Kavous Seyed-Emami, a professor of sociology at Imam Sadiq University and a co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, along with several others on charges of espionage. On February 10, 2018, prison officials publicly announced the arrests, and acknowledged that Professor Seyed-Emami had died in Evin Prison of what they claimed was a suicide.
Professor Seyed-Emami, a dual Canadian-Iranian national, was an environmentalist who led camping trips for Iranian youths in his spare time. On January 24, intelligence officials took him into custody, along with at least seven others, who Iranian authorities claimed were “collecting classified information about the country’s strategic areas under the guise of carrying out scientific and environmental projects.” The information released by authorities does not appear to make clear what classified information Professor Seyed-Emami and others were alleged to have collected, who they were allegedly working for, or what evidence supports these allegations.
On February 9, authorities reportedly notified Professor Seyed-Emami’s wife of her husband’s death. The following day, authorities announced the arrests and Professor Seyed-Emami’s death, claiming it was a suicide. Professor Seyed-Emami’s death follows two other recent incidents in Evin Prison, in which activists died and authorities later ruled their deaths suicides.
The Tehran prosecutor has claimed that Professor Seyed-Emami committed suicide because he knew that he had been implicated by his own confession and those of his co-defendants. Authorities claim that video evidence demonstrates that Professor Seyed-Emami’s death was a suicide. Human rights groups, however, have argued that the death occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances and are demanding an investigation, including an autopsy. According to reports, authorities have offered to return Professor Seyed-Emami’s remains to the family, on the condition that they bury him quietly and quickly.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the arrest and death in custody of a scholar, in apparent connection with his nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect the right to nonviolent academic activity and association, and to ensure a prompt, independent, and transparent investigation of Professor Seyed-Emami’s death.