Skip to main content

Irwin Cotler, renowned international human-rights lawyer and former justice minister, is representing the family of a Canadian-Iranian widow who has been barred from leaving Iran since her husband’s suspicious death inside a Tehran prison earlier this year.

The Globe and Mail confirmed that Mr. Cotler began acting as international legal counsel for Maryam Mombeini’s family about month ago. The news of Mr. Cotler’s involvement in the high-profile consular case comes days after Ms. Mombeini’s home in the Iranian capital of Tehran was raided by a powerful branch of the country’s military that arrested her husband prior to his death in the notorious Evin prison in February.

Ramin Seyed-Emami, one of Ms. Mombeini’s sons who now lives in Vancouver with his brother Mehran, said the recent escalation of events started on Sunday when Ms. Mombeini attended what she thought would be a routine check in with Iranian officials regarding her continuing travel ban. When she arrived for her meeting, officials interrogated her for three to four hours about her late husband, Kavous Seyed-Emami, who was a sociology professor.

“We were just devastated, angry, confused and really disappointed that we’re powerless to do anything from all the way over here, overseas,” Ramin said.

Ms. Mombeini returned home, only to have approximately 20 plain-clothed officials raid her home on Monday. The raid happened when most Iranians would have been distracted by a World Cup soccer game between Iran and Portugal, Ramin said. According to Ramin, the officials were representatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and took six or seven mysterious boxes to the home’s basement.

“I don’t know what they were going to do with those boxes but if they were planting evidence or using equipment inside of it that would be incriminating against our father, this would be the perfect time, without any sort of opposition, that they could just get away with it,” Ramin said.

The officials then pulled out a camera and started questioning his mother in her house, at which point she had a panic attack, Ramin said. A family friend called Ms. Mombeini an ambulance and she was taken to hospital, where she was monitored for two nights.

Ramin said his family is grateful to the Canadian government for their repeated demands that Ms. Mombeini be allowed to leave Iran. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland raised the case with her European Union counterpart Federica Mogherini during a meeting in Brussels Tuesday. Ms. Freeland also called her Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, last month to demand he help solve the case.

Ms. Mombeini’s husband, Mr. Seyed-Emami, taught at a Tehran university and directed a wildlife foundation. He was arrested at the end of January on what his family says were unsubstantiated allegations of spying.

The family – all Canadian-Iranian citizens – decided to flee Iran in March because they were facing threats for rejecting Iranian authorities’ claim that Mr. Seyed-Emami died by suicide. When Iranian officials barred Ms. Mombeini from boarding the plane, she told her sons to leave without her.

Ramin and Mehran are now living with friends and have drained all of their financial resources trying to defend their family. Money, however, is the least of their worries at the moment.

“I am only concerned about getting my mom out. My brother and I are healthy, able people who will find a job and put our life back together piece by piece,” Ramin said.