Once again, a Cana­dian dies in an Iran jail

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - EDITORIAL -

Zahra Kazemi. Hamid Ghas­semi-Shall. Homa Hood­far. And now Kavous Seyed-Emami. All four are Ira­nian-Cana­di­ans who were im­pris­oned and mal­treated by the Iran gov­ern­ment after their ar­rests on du­bi­ous charges of es­pi­onage.

Mr. Ghas­semi-Shall and Ms. Hood­far were even­tu­ally re­leased, thanks to in­ter­na­tional pres­sure.

But Mr. Seyed-Emami died on Fri­day in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the same cham­ber of hor­rors in which Ms. Kazemi was raped, tor­tured and mur­dered in 2003.

There is a hol­low fa­mil­iar­ity to Mr. Seyed-Emami’s death, and to Ira­nian of­fi­cials’ claims as to how it came about. They say he com­mit­ted sui­cide, but they are so un­sure of their abil­ity to de­fend that claim that they told Mr. Seyed-Emami’s fam­ily that there would be no au­topsy, and or­dered them to quickly bury his body with­out cer­e­mony on Tues­day.

His body safely in the ground, an Ira­nian prose­cu­tor an­nounced that Mr. Seyed-Emami was a spy work­ing for Amer­i­can and Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence ser­vices – a charge based solely on al­leged con­fes­sions made after his ar­rest, and other­wise ut­terly un­sup­ported by any ev­i­dence.

The prose­cu­tor also claimed there is a video show­ing Mr. Seyed-Emami tak­ing off his shirt in his cell, call­ing it ev­i­dence that he was pre­par­ing to hang him­self with his cloth­ing. The video doesn’t show the ac­tual sui­cide, how­ever, some­thing the prose­cu­tor said was un­for­tu­nate.

The sui­cide claim is, of course, as im­prob­a­ble as the es­pi­onage charges that Mr. Seyed-Emami al­legedly ad­mit­ted to in Evin Prison, a place where con­fes­sions are rou­tinely wrung out of pris­on­ers through tor­ture. He was a re­spected aca­demic and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist who most likely was caught up in the ar­bi­trary ar­rests car­ried out by Iran au­thor­i­ties in the wake of mass protests last month.

For the record, Mr. Seyed-Emami’s “sui­cide” was the third in an Iran jail in one month. Two Ira­nian men ar­rested after the Jan­uary protests also al­legedly took their own lives. Their fam­i­lies were like­wise or­dered to bury them quickly, with no au­topsy, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights in Iran.

And then there was Ms. Kazemi. A free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher, she was ar­rested after tak­ing pic­tures out­side Evin Prison in 2003. When she died, Ira­nian of­fi­cials said she had suf­fered a stroke while be­ing in­ter­ro­gated. Two years later, a prison of­fi­cial who ex­am­ined her body said she had been bru­tally raped, suf­fered a skull frac­ture, was miss­ing some of her fin­ger­nails and teeth, and had been flogged.

Small won­der Iran wants to avoid the em­bar­rass­ment of an au­topsy on Mr. Seyed-Emami. The Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights in Iran says the sui­cide claim has “no cred­i­bil­ity what­so­ever,” which is an un­der­state­ment given the regime’s his­tory and known prac­tices.

Friends and fam­ily of Mr. Seyed-Emami, who was 63, are equally doubt­ful of the of­fi­cial ver­sion of his death. One close friend said he was “phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally very well put to­gether.” Others say he was a pa­tri­otic Ira­nian who fought in the war against Iraq.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and the CHRI are call­ing for an in­de­pen­dent au­topsy. The CHRI is also call­ing on the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene. Ot­tawa ab­so­lutely should do that, and in the strong­est terms pos­si­ble.

For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said Tues­day that Canada is “se­ri­ously con­cerned by the sit­u­a­tion sur­round­ing the de­ten­tion and death of Mr. Seyed-Emami. We ex­pect the Gov­ern­ment of Iran to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and an­swers. … We will con­tinue to use ev­ery means at Canada’s dis­posal to seek fur­ther in­for­ma­tion.”

Strong words, but some­what un­der­cut by the fact Canada doesn’t have an em­bassy in Tehran. The for­mer Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment closed it in 2012, a poorly ad­vised and much­crit­i­cized move at the time.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment is now in the del­i­cate po­si­tion of de­mand­ing an­swers about Mr. Seyed-Emami while also pur­su­ing its goal of re-es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic ties.

Still, Ot­tawa should not back off. A UN work­ing group said in Septem­ber that Iran ap­pears to have a pol­icy of ar­bi­trar­ily im­pris­on­ing dual-na­tion­als. Based on the ev­i­dence, it is fair to con­clude that it does this partly to an­tag­o­nize in­ter­na­tional crit­ics and as­sert its sovereignty.

Canada should re­lent­lessly in­sist on an au­topsy and, if nec­es­sary, turn to the United Na­tions to in­crease the pres­sure. We know Iran’s cruel game. Let’s not play along with it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.