By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 U.S.-trained scholar in sociology.
Seyed-Emami’s son, the Iranian musician Raam Emami, wrote on Twitter that his father was arrested on Jan. 24, and that his mother had been informed of Emami’s death on Feb. 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.
Seyed-Emami received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1991, according to an online alumni listing maintained by the university.
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.
Seyed-Emami was well-known in Iran for his environmental activism, and organized regular, large camping trips outside the capital city Tehran to familiarize people with Iran’s natural beauty, said Siamdoust, who attended one of the trips.
“He knew Iran so well, and he would lead this very large caravan of cars into remote areas that few Tehranis would really know how to navigate,” Siamdoust said. “It was my first intense encounter with unknown, uncharted Iranian natural territory, and it was a deeply meaningful experience for me.”
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.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati, additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mary Milliken and David Gregorio)