Under a single spotlight in a dark basement venue in Ottawa, musician Ramin Seyed-Emami stopped playing mid-song. Taking a breath and fighting back tears, he struggled to sing the lyrics dedicated to his father, who died mysteriously in an Iranian prison last year.
Ama To Nisti, Persian for But You’re Not Here, was written by Mr. Seyed-Emami from the perspective of his mother, Maryam Mombeini, a Canadian-Iranian. Iran has barred her from leaving the country since her husband, Prof. Kavous Seyed-Emami, died last year.
“It’s an emotionally draining song to play. Every time I play it, I cry,” Mr. Seyed-Emami told the audience at the University of Ottawa Monday night.
Mr. Seyed-Emami, who goes by the stage name King Raam, has embarked on a one-man tour across Canada and Europe. During the show, he weaves his original folk songs into a narrative about his upbringing in Iran, Canada and the United States, the circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the fight to reunite with his mother.
Mr. Seyed-Emami says the performance is “cathartic” for him, following a bout of darkness and suicidal thoughts since his father’s death.
“The best way for me to channel all of my trauma is through music,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
As Mr. Seyed-Emami takes his story on tour, he is urging the Canadian government to be more outspoken about his mother’s consular case. He and his brother, Mehran, have refrained from criticizing Canada’s response to their mother’s situation in hopes that it would lead to a resolution. But after nearly 500 days since their father’s death – Mr. Seyed-Emami tracks the days on his phone – he has a message for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
“Make this a priority within your administration, to let them [Canadians] know how seriously you take every single Canadian citizen’s life,” Mr. Seyed-Emami said. “If that was your motto for becoming Prime Minister – ‘A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian’ – well, prove it.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has directly phoned Ms. Mombeini a number of times since her husband died. While Mr. Seyed-Emami says he is grateful for the minister’s concern, he is disappointed in Global Affairs officials. He says they rarely have news for his mother, often coming to his family for updates instead.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. Freeland’s office said Canada remains “deeply concerned” about Ms. Mombeini’s situation and called on Iranian authorities to allow her to return home to Canada.
“The focus of any discussion between the governments of Canada and Iran remains ensuring Ms. Mombeini is able to return home,” Ms. Freeland’s spokesman, Adam Austen, said in an e-mail.
Mr. Austen said the minister has spoken to Iran’s Foreign Minister and United Nations ambassador about Ms. Mombeini’s case.
Kavous Seyed-Emami was a Canadian-Iranian sociology professor and managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. He died in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in February, 2018, two weeks after he was arrested by Iranian authorities on what his family says were unsubstantiated allegations of spying. Iranian authorities say he died by suicide – a claim his family continues to reject.
Audience members at Mr. Seyed-Emami’s show Monday, wiped away tears as he described how an Iranian official flipped through photos of his father’s autopsied body, including images of his organs, “as if it was like some photo album of a vacation."
He described his father as a “tree-hugging hippie pacifist” who was wrongly targeted, along with eight colleagues from his wildlife organization, by an Iranian crackdown on non-governmental organizations and environmentalists. Prof. Seyed-Emami’s colleagues remain behind bars today; four of them face charges that can carry the death penalty.
“He had so much faith and belief that the good would prevail in our country but he also, at the end, was sacrificed by people over this petty struggle for power,” Mr. Seyed-Emami said.
He and his brother and mother – all dual citizens of Canada and Iran – decided to flee Iran in March, 2018, after facing threats for rejecting allegations that Prof. Seyed-Emami died by suicide. When Iranian officials barred Ms. Mombeini from boarding the plane, she told her sons to leave without her. Since then, Iranian authorities have repeatedly renewed the travel ban against her.
Ms. Mombeini has carried on her husband’s environmental legacy as she awaits permission to leave Iran. She has taken in stray dogs, some of which have been adopted by families in Vancouver, where her sons live. The irony in the fact that the dogs are allowed to leave Iran but Ms. Mombeini can’t is not lost on Mr. Seyed-Emami, who looks forward to seeing his mother reunite with the pets she rescued.
In the meantime, Mr. Seyed-Emami says his mother is randomly interrogated by Iranian authorities and is presumably under surveillance. He says she is lonely, as most of her family and friends fear the repercussions of being associated with her.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I am sure that once we are reunited, we’re going to be happy again because that’s what my dad would have wanted. And that’s the only way we’re going to have our revenge," Mr. Seyed-Emami said.