Update: February 11
Tehran's prosecutor, Jafari Dolatabadi, has stated that Seyed-Emami had confessed against himself before committing suicide. Speaking at a gathering commemorating the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Jafari Dolatabadi added: “There were many confessions against this individual and he confessed against himself as well, and unfortunately he committed suicide.” Iran’s judiciary has also announced that a number of environmentalists have been arrested in the past few weeks on suspicion of espionage.
The tweet by celebrated Iranian musician Ramin Seyed-Emami (aka King Raam) was shocking, even to many Iranians who are used to the stories of atrocities in Iranian prisons. "The news of my father's passing is impossible to fathom. Kavous Seyed Emami 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."
Seyed-Emami's father, Kavous, was a notable Iranian sociologist, university professor and environmentalist who died in Tehran’s Evin prison less than a month after he was arrested.
The Iranian Political Science Association said Seyed-Emami was "not only a unique scholar and a hard-working researcher in political science but a honorable and ethical man and, all in all, a unique personality."
Kavous Seyed-Emami taught at Tehran’s Imam Sadegh University (ISU) and was a trustee of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), an NGO known for its efforts to save the Asiatic cheetah, an endangered species, only 50 of which are thought to be left in all of Iran. The cheetah is widely treasured as a national symbol of Iran.
Seyed-Emami was arrested on January 24, along with seven other environmental activists. All were charged with espionage.
Seyed-Emami’s son, the New York-based punk rock singer King Raam from the band Hypernova, first reported the news.
“They’ve told us he has committed suicide... I still don’t believe it, we don’t believe it,” King Raam tweeted in Persian, before posting a similar tweet in English.
“The family is in total shock, they don’t believe this could have been suicide for a minute,” a New York-based source close to the family told IranWire.
Many Iranians went on to social media, reacting with shock. Prague-based Iranian journalist Kayvan Hosseini called it “one of the most shocking deaths in Iranian prisons.”
“I can’t believe this news. I can seriously say that I had never met a professor wiser and more honorable than him,” one person posted on Twitter.
“I am still in shock,” tweeted Ghassem Rahimi, a Tehran-based graduate student of political science in Persian.
Many expressed skepticism that a prisoner recently arrested on national security charges could have possibly had the opportunity to commit suicide given the strict controls in prison. For a start, prisoners are not allowed any metal objects inside the jail, and they are not allowed to take long showers.
Just as the news of Seyed-Emami’s death was hitting the headlines, Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi declared that a group of environmentalists had been arrested and charged with espionage. They were “gathering classified information in strategic spheres under the cover of conducting scientific and environmental projects,” Dowlatabadi said, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency.
Seyed-Emami was a respected scholar who taught at ISU's Faculty of Islamic Sciences and Political Science. ISU is an establishment institution, known for training cadre for the Islamic Republic. Seyed-Emami received his PhD in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1991 after having previously received a Bachelor’s degree and two Master’s degrees in the United States, where he had studied since the early 1970s. He was widely published in Iran and abroad, in Persian and English. He was a dual national, a citizen of both Iran and Canada.
The PWHF’s collaboration with the government of President Hassan Rouhani on the cheetah conservation project had been a cause for controversy before. Forces opposed to Rouhani, which control the judiciary and much of the Iranian establishment, had long campaigned against Masoumeh Ebtekar, one of Rouhani’s vice presidents and head of the Department of Environment during his first term.
Iranian-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, a fellow trustee of PWHF, was arrested at the same time Seyed-Emami was. Tahbaz had been attacked by hardline media outlets due to his alleged involvement in construction activities in the US and Israel. Tasnim News Agency, linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), alleged that Ebtekar and Tahbaz were collaborating to organize hunting tours in Iran targeting endangered species such as MacQueen’s bustard (known as the Asian houbara in Iran), Laristani mouflons (a type of wild sheep) and even the treasured Asiatic Cheetah. According to the London-based website Kayhan, which is known for presenting an anti-regime line, Ebtekar’s removal from the Department of Environment might have been due to her links with PWHF.
Hooman Jokar, head of the Asiatic Cheetah Project; Niloufar Bayani, Jokar’s wife and a United Nations Environment Programme project advisor, and two other environmentalists associated with the PWHF were among the other people arrested.
The Iranian Political Science Association said Seyed-Emami was "not only a unique scholar and a hard-working researcher in political science, but an honorable and ethical man and, all in all, a unique personality."