On the night of June 25, just as Iran faced Portugal at the World Cup, Ramin Seyed-Emami reported that security agents had forced their way into his father’s home. “While the Iran-Portugal game is going on, our house in Tehran has been raided by 20 security bailiffs,” he tweeted, passing on information he’d received from the family’s lawyer, who was present for some of the ordeal. Ramin left Iran in March. “The agents have brought in six big boxes and have taken them to our basement without allowing anybody to see what they are doing," he wrote. "Don’t they have enough evidence almost five months after my father’s death? Do they plan to plant evidence there?”
Ramin’s father, Kavous Seyed-Emami, was a notable Iranian sociologist, university professor and environmentalist who died in Tehran’s Evin prison under suspicious circumstances less than a month after he was arrested. At the time, Ramin tweeted that his father had been arrested on January 24. "Suddenly, on Friday, February 9, they call my mother, Maryam, to the court and tell her that her husband had died. They say he has committed suicide. I still can’t believe this."
Not only was his family in a state of shock, but none of the people who knew Kavous Seyed-Emami could believe that he had committed suicide.
On February 11, Tehran's prosecutor, Jafari Dolatabadi, claimed that several people had accused Seyed-Emami of various crimes, and that the 64-year-old had confessed to them before committing suicide. Iran’s judiciary also announced that a number of environmentalists had been arrested on suspicion of espionage.
Five months have passed, and the judiciary has yet to offer any evidence to support the charge of espionage against Seyed-Emami.
A Documentary in the Basement
Arash Kaykhosravi, the family’s legal counsel, rushed to their home while the agents were still there. “They had arrived at the home of the late Seyed-Emami at around 5pm and I got there around 7:15pm,” Kaykhosravi told IranWire. “They said I was not allowed to go in.” When he asked why they were there, they answered: “We have a permit from the prosecutor to come here to make a film.” And then they showed him a piece of paper signed by the prosecutor that said the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit were allowed produce a film at Seyed-Emami’s home. According to him, a great number of agents had arrived at the property, and they had brought big boxes with them. “I don’t know exactly how many boxes but they had used a van to bring them,” Kaykhosravi said.
Tehran prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi said the agents “must have had a license for what they were doing.”
Although the lawyer said he was not sure what film title was specified on the permit the agents showed him, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist member of the parliament, had his own ideas — tweeting that the film was entitled Downfall.
Kaykhosravi said Maryam Mombini, Kavous Seyed-Emami’s widow, went into shock when the agents raided the house. “Emergency came and Ms. Momeini was taken to Pars Hospital,” he said.“I accompanied her to the hospital and when I returned they had moved the boxes to the basement. I told them I wanted to go to the basement to see what they were doing but they would not allow me.” According to him, it was not clear what the boxes contained “and the agents refused to explain anything.”
Ramin Seyed-Emami tweeted that, a day before the raid, his mother had been interrogated at an unknown location for more than four hours. “They gave the address of an investigation office to Ms. Mombini that appeared to belong to the Revolutionary Guards,” Kaykhosravi said. “She was interrogated there. Earlier, when they had called her, they had said that they wanted to talk about her travel ban.” On March 7, her two sons reported that as they were leaving Iran, their mother had been prevented from traveling. The two sons, Ramin and his brother Mehran, were allowed to leave.
According to Kaykhosravi, when Maryam Mombini was interrogated, there was no mention of the travel ban. Instead, they asked questions about her house’s basement. “They talked about a scenario that described the basement as a [place of interest to] police,” he said. “The homes of the late Seyed-Emami and his siblings are adjacent and they share a basement. The municipality did not allow them to turn the basement into a parking garage so it is now a junkyard.”
Kaykhosravi said the agents stayed at the house until 11:15pm, after he had left. Although he says they did not mistreat him, they did not allow him “to do my duties as a lawyer.”
A Series of Arrests
Kavous Seyed-Emami was not the only well-known environmental activist to be arrested last February. Morad Tahbaz, Sam Rajabi, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Hooman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloofar Bayani and Taher Ghadirian were all arrested too, and remain in detention. And, outside Tehran, a number of other environmental activists in other cities have also been behind bars for months. Kaveh Madani, deputy head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency, was arrested, released, and then resigned from his post while on a trip to Thailand. He has not returned to Iran.
In response to questions from reporters as to why the environmentalists were arrested, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said the group had “passed on classified information about sensitive sites to foreign intelligence agencies.” But Isa Kalantari, head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency, said that the Intelligence Ministry had dismissed the charges of espionage against the detainees.
In a tweet, Mahmoud Sadeghi also confirmed that the Intelligence Ministry does not believe the charge of espionage is true. “At a meeting of the National Security and Foreign Policy [committee],” he wrote, “in answer to questions by principlist [conservative] representatives…experts from the ministry clearly and unequivocally announced that they had found no evidence that they were spies.”
But Mohseni Ejei dismissed these assertions and said the ministry did not have the correct information about the case and had not seen the evidence.
And yet, since then, the judiciary has not produced any evidence to the contrary. It is possible the film made in the basement of Seyed-Emami’s house will be presented as evidence of his espionage. What the big boxes contained is anybody’s guess. Neither the family nor their lawyer was allowed to see what was in them.
More on the prosecution and the persecution of environmental activists in Iran:
Environmental Expert Kaveh Madani Leaves Iran, April 16, 2018
Son Calls for Independent Investigation into “Suicide”, February 15, 2018
Kaveh Madani Remains Under Surveillance, February 14, 2018
The “Suicide” Project: A Warning to Activists, February 12, 2018
Scientist Arrested Four Months after Returning to Iran, February 11, 2018
News of Iranian-Canadian's "Suicide" in Prison Shocks Iran, February 10, 2018