The sons of an Iranian-Canadian professor who mysteriously died in a Tehran prison are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene and ensure their widowed mother can leave the country.
Ramin and Mehran Seyed-Emami said they are grateful to the Canadian government – particularly Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland – for the support throughout their family’s ordeal, which escalated last week when their mother, Maryam Mombeini, was barred from leaving Iran with her sons. The brothers are now calling on Mr. Trudeau to ensure their mother’s safe return to Canada.
“The only thing I think we would appreciate is the Prime Minister himself directly pursuing and being involved in this case and ensuring our mother’s security and safety,” Ramin Seyed-Emami said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We need the Prime Minister to be more outspoken and guarantee that this Canadian will be returned safely to her country.”
The Prime Minister’s Office said the government takes consular matters seriously, but deferred to Ms. Freeland for any further comment. The minister has called on the Iranian government to immediately allow Ms. Mombeini - an Iranian-Canadian citizen - to return home. Ms. Freeland also called Ms. Mombeini last week after she was told she could not leave Iran.
Speaking to The Globe, Ramin said the past month and a half has been a “never ending nightmare” for his family.
Kavous Seyed-Emami, a sociology professor working in Iran, died in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after he was arrested at the end of January on what his family says were unsubstantiated allegations of spying. His family – all Iranian-Canadian citizens - decided to flee Iran because they were facing harassment, threats and smear campaigns for rejecting Iranian authorities’ claim that Prof. Seyed-Emami died by suicide.
They arrived at the Tehran airport early last Thursday morning with their three dogs and 10 suitcases. They thought they were in the clear when they got to the gate.
Ramin said that what followed was like the tense scene out of the Oscar-winning historical drama Argo, in which nervous U.S. diplomats are questioned by Iranian authorities as they try to board a plane out of the country after the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.
“They had called us for boarding and as we got to the end of the line … all of a sudden, this plainclothes official runs into the room … shouting like, ‘Ms. Mombeini, Ms. Mombeini!’ And as soon as he shouted her name, we knew what was up.”
Ramin said their mother pleaded with her sons to board the plane without her and never return to Iran.
They arrived in Vancouver later on Thursday and stayed with friends over the weekend. They have been relying on friends and family for financial support since Iranian authorities seized the deeds to their family home in Iran.
“Financially, we’re, like, done,” Ramin said. “Now we have so little money.”
The brothers are continuing to raise awareness of their mother’s case as lawyers in Iran try to determine why she was barred from leaving the country. Meanwhile, their mother is still in her Tehran home, which Iranian authorities have raided twice since her husband’s arrest in January. Ramin is convinced the authorities bugged the house.
Prof. Seyed-Emami, 64, taught at the Imam Sadegh University in Tehran and conducted environmental research as managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation.
Ramin said his father had recently returned from a sabbatical in Lethbridge, Alta., when he was arrested. Prof. Seyed-Emami was the last member of the foundation to be thrown behind bars; Ramin said his father’s colleagues remain in prison. He said the reason for his father’s arrest is still a mystery.
The family is also seeking answers about Prof. Seyed-Emami’s cause of death, as requests for an independent autopsy were denied. The family does not even know when exactly he died. Ramin said his mother was shown her husband’s body on Feb. 9, leading them to believe he died shortly before that.
“My mom said there was still fresh blood on my father’s body,” Ramin said.
As the Seyed-Emami brothers search for answers, they are immediately focused on reuniting with their mother in Canada.
“That’s the best revenge that we can get,” Ramin said.