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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Iranian environmental activist dies in prison, his son says

Kavous Seyed-Emami was the managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect Iran’s rare animals, and a US-trained scholar in sociology

An Iranian academic and environmental activist imprisoned by Iranian authorities last month has died in prison, his son wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Kavous Seyed-Emami was the managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect Iran’s rare animals, and a US-trained scholar in sociology.

Seyed-Emami’s son, the Iranian musician Raam Emami, wrote on Twitter that his father was arrested on January 24, and that his mother had been informed of Emami’s death on February 9. It was not immediately clear where he was tweeting from.

“The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” Raam Emami wrote. “I still can’t believe this.”

On his Instagram account, Raam Emami wrote that authorities said his father had committed suicide. He did not respond to requests for further comment.

Tehran’s prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said on Saturday that Iran’s security forces had arrested several people on espionage charges, the judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported.

“They were gathering classified information in strategic areas ... under the coverage of scientific and environmental projects,” he said, without giving further information.

The Iranian judiciary could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday evening. Iranian authorities had not announced an arrest of Seyed-Emami, and his death was not confirmed by official sources.

Mr Seyed-Emami received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1991, according to an online alumni listing maintained by the university.

Mr Seyed-Emami is believed to have been a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen. A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said authorities were looking into the matter.

“He was a very knowledgeable man and a very kind and generous man,” said Nahid Siamdoust, a scholar at Yale University who knew him. “He lived a simple life that was connected to nature and that’s why he was an inspiring man. People could see this was what he believed and he lived that way too.”

Iran faces a number of serious environmental crises, including water scarcity, air pollution and wildlife poaching. Human rights groups say civil society activists in Iran face the risk of arbitrary arrest and harassment by Iranian authorities.