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Iranian Environmental Official Hated by Conservatives 'Escapes' Iran


Kaveh Madani, seen in this undated photo, had served as the deputy head of Iran's Department of the Environment.

A senior Iranian environmental official whose activism and Western connections drew strong criticism from conservatives has revealed that he has left his post and departed the country.

In a tweet posted Tuesday, Kaveh Madani said he has "escaped" a country where "ignorant" people have "pushed aside science, knowledge and expertise."

Madani, an American-educated environmentalist in his mid-30s, had served as the deputy head of Iran's Department of the Environment. He had been responsible for international affairs and innovation since last September when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani persuaded him to leave a lecturing post at London's Imperial College and return to Iran to take up the governmental position.

News of Madani's departure from Iran first came in a Monday tweet by reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi, who said the former official and his wife had left Iran. It was not clear when Madani left Iran or where he went.

In an earlier tweet posted February 11, Sadeghi quoted Iran's environment department chief Isa Kalantari as saying Madani had been arrested. However, there was no official confirmation of the arrest and a day later, the department tried to show that Madani was carrying out his job normally, posting a photo of Madani accompanying Kalantari at a meeting with the German ambassador in Tehran.

Madani, a water-conservation expert, had been trying to help Iran cope with an environmental crisis that has seen nationwide water shortages caused by drought and mismanagement of natural resources.

FILE - In this frame from a social media video posted April 13, 2018, people in Khorasgan, Iran, march to protest water shortages that are hurting local farmers.
FILE - In this frame from a social media video posted April 13, 2018, people in Khorasgan, Iran, march to protest water shortages that are hurting local farmers.

Madani's apparent brief detention in February followed reports by rights activists that several other environmentalists had been arrested in Iran in the preceding weeks on suspicion of spying for the West. One of them, Iranian-Canadian environmentalist Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in Tehran's Evin prison on February 9. Iranian officials said Emami committed suicide, but family members doubted that assertion and called for an independent autopsy.

In recent weeks, conservative critics of Madani also have accused him of spying under cover of environmental activism.

In his Tuesday tweet, Madani responded to the accusation by saying his critics know that labeling someone as a spy is "easier than taking responsibility and cooperating to solve problems."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian Service.

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