Feb 12, 2018

Iran: Environmental Activist Commits Suicide While in Tehran Prison

                                                             Photo Courtesy of Al Arabya:

On Friday, 9 February 2018 , Kavous Seyed Emami, a professor and prominent environmental activist, committed suicide while in detention in a Tehran prison, according to national authorities. This incident seems to have similarities with scores of other cases in which Iranian authorities issued statements on activists who had taken their lives while imprisoned. The long list of environmental activists charged with “espionage” and detained seemingly arbitrarily with no legal justification is a clear symptom of Tehran’s brutal crackdown and systematic silencing of environmental activists in Iran.

The article below was published by New York Times:

A well-known Iranian-Canadian professor has died in prison in Tehran, a statement posted on his son’s Instagram page revealed on Saturday, and his family is seeking an independent autopsy.

The professor, Kavous Seyed Emami, was one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most prominent nongovernmental organization focused on the environment.

On Friday, his wife received a phone call from prison authorities saying that her husband had committed suicide in Evin prison, his son said in his post. Mr. Seyed Emami had been arrested on Jan. 24, and, according to the family, was detained by intelligence agents along with several other environmental activists, including Morad Tahbaz, a visiting Iranian-American businessman.

The death of Mr. Seyed Emami is among a number involving recently detained activists. Prison authorities insist that at least three prisoners who died after they were arrested during nationwide protests in December also died by suicide. Many prominent Iranians have assailed that conclusion.

On Saturday, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, Tehran’s public prosecutor, said that several people who had been posing as environmentalists were arrested and charged with espionage, according to a report from the Young Journalists Club.

“These individuals have been collecting classified information about the country’s strategic areas under the guise of carrying out scientific and environmental projects,” he said, adding that they were arrested by Iran’s intelligence forces.

No further information has been provided on the identity of those arrested. It was unclear if Mr. Jafari-Dolatabadi was speaking about Mr. Seyed Emami and his colleagues.

Mr. Seyed Emami’s son, the popular singer Ramin Seyed Emami, was on a trip to the United States when his father was arrested. In the statement posted to his Instagram accounts, he said he was in disbelief that his father killed himself in prison.

 “The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” he wrote. “They say he committed suicide. I still can’t believe this.”

For decades, Mr. Seyed Emami taught sociology at Tehran’s Imam Sadegh University, a hard-line institution where the cadres of the Iranian establishment are trained. He said it was his duty to teach students his opposing views. In his spare time, he organized popular camping trips for Tehrani youths to the outskirts of Iran.

Other environmentalists associated with Mr. Seyed Emami’s organization remain behind bars. Mr. Tahbaz, the Iranian-American businessman, is a board member of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation, and was quietly arrested by intelligence agents while visiting the country.

Several local employees and volunteers of the foundation were also arrested, though it is unclear why. Mr. Tahbaz has been accused by hard-line Iranian news outlets of plotting to sell hunting permits, something that seems highly implausible, people close to the foundation say.

The detention of Mr. Tahbaz adds to a long list of dual nationals arrested in Iran, most of them by the intelligence service of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Family members of two Iranian-Americans sentenced for spying, Baquer and Siamak Namazi, a father and son, say Iran is effectively holding them hostage in order to make a prisoner exchange.

In 2003, an Iranian-Canadian photographer, Zahra Kazemi, died in Evin prison after she was detained while taking photographs. Her death led to a downgrading in relations between Canada and Iran.

There is currently no Canadian embassy in the country and there are no official diplomatic relations between the two nations.


The article below was published by Al Arabya:

Only two days after the Iranian government announced that Kavous Seyed Emami, the 63 year-old Iranian-Canadian managing director of wildlife protection institute in Tehran “committed suicide” under custody, Iranian environmental community was hit with another shocking news.

Yesterday, on February 12 a member of parliament tweeted that Dr. Kaveh Madani, current Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment is among the environmentalists arrested for what was described as “supplying foreigners with information”.

In response to the news Azam Bahrami, the Iranian author and environmental activist posted the following on her Facebook page:

“What kind of Information environmental activists in Iran have that is not already available to NASA weather satellites and the Global Environment Management? All the information about water transfer projects, drought of lakes and rivers, corruption in dam building are documented by many international organizations.”

 “Iran rud” (Iran’s river) or ‘trans-Iranian’ canal is the name of the mega project which aims at connecting the Caspian Sea to Indian Ocean through digging a ship canal. The length of the waterway is between 1465 km and 1600 km with the estimated cost of $6-$10 billion.

The first phase of “Iran rud” is to desalinate water from Caspian Sea and transfer 500 million cubic meters of water per annum to central provinces and eventually construct a canal through which ships from the Caspian could connect to the high seas. This passage which was first proposed in 1996 stretches from the shores of the Gulf of Oman to the coast of the Caspian Sea where water is channeled through Dashte Lut and Dashte Kavir.

In 2012 and during Ahmadinejad’s administration the project commenced but was put on hold when Rouhani took office a year later, however it has been taken up again despite strong criticism from environmental experts due to its damaging implications on the ecosystem.

There are three major reasons why Iranian environmental activists oppose the implementation of “trans-Iranian” canal and do not share the enthusiasm of its supporters who compare this project to successful canals such as Panama, Danube, Suez etc.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Dasht-e Lut salt desert i.e the place through which water is to be channeled has a 70.7°C temperature and was the hottest place on earth from 2004-2009. Dasht-e Lut is also the world’s 27th- largest desert. Needless to say, neither Panama, Danube or the Suez Canal share similar weather conditions.


Secondly, the Caspian Sea is in an endorheic basin (a basin without outflows) hence desalinating its water means jeopardizing its ecological balance and may bring about serious environmental implication. On the other hand, the Caspian Sea is shared between Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. Any negative environmental implication will impact not solely Iran but also neighboring countries.

Last but not least, similar to majority of development projects in Iran Khatam al-Anbiya Constructions which is an engineering firm affiliated with Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has undertaken the project.

Despite wide spread opposition from experts Khatam al-Anbiya constructed the Gotvand Dam on Karun river in Southern Province of Khuzestan historically known as Arabistan. Currently nine million tonnes of salt has built up in the bottom of the dam’s reservoir. As a bitter jock it is referred to as Middle East’s biggest “salt factory”.

During an interview on the matter, Dr. Naser Karami, professor at the department of Geography in Bergen University and another opponent of the canal, said that companies such as Khatam al-Anbiya Constructions lack the transparency when it comes to conducting studies for projects on such massive scale and criticized assigning the same company responsible for Gotvand’s dam to a new project while they have not been held responsible for their previous environmental catastrophe.

Azam Bahrami in a similar comment underlined the role of this IRGC affiliated company stating at the end of her Facebook post:

“How is it that whenever the name of Khatam al-Anbiya Constructions corruption in development projects comes up, all of a sudden environmental activists are called criminals and spies? This scenario applies on the recent arrests.”

On April 9, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran agreed to speed up the talks on a North-South transport corridor”.

One year later, Iran’s ambassador to Russia said that the “the growth of Iran’s trade relations with Russia was the biggest last year in comparison with any other country… It seems to me that this trend will continue, and we will reach a considerable trade of $10 billion in the coming two or three years”.

Semyon Bagdasarov, the director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies in an interview with Sputnik referred to the geopolitic importance of such canal for Iran commenting:

“Iran would like to create an entire series of transport links,” designed to give the country a measure of security “in case Turkey or the West try to block off the country in the future, hence all these grand projects. As to whether it is possible to implement them –that remains the big question”.

The 36 year-old Madani, Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment and a senior lecturer in environmental management at the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College London who is currently under arrest, is a critic of ‘trans-Iranian’ canal. In a 2016 article he co-wrote for the guardian Madani described desalting water from Caspian Sea as “a grand but faulty vision of Iran’s water problems.”

Whether there is a link between arrest of environmental activists and Iran-Russia talks for “Trans-Iranian” canal remains a question.