Leading Iranian academics are demanding answers after officials said a renowned environmentalist had killed himself in prison.
Officials told the family of Kavous Seyed Emami, 63, founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, that he had killed himself two weeks after he was arrested. Emami, a Canadian-Iranian citizen, was also a respected professor at Imam Sadegh University in Tehran.
A group of four academic societies, representing some of Iran's top universities, wrote an open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, demanding "immediate and effective action to seriously investigate the case ... and make the institutions involved in this painful loss accountable."
"In addition to being a well-known professor, a distinguished scientist and war veteran ... he was a noble and ethical human being," they wrote. "The news and rumors related to his arrest and death are not believable."
Omar Alghabra, Canada's parliamentary secretary for consular affairs, tweeted Monday morning that "Canada is concerned about the circumstances around the death of Mr. Seyed-Emami. Our thoughts are with his family. Canada has asked Iranian authorities for answers."
Tehran's chief prosecutor had said Emami was part of a group of environmental activists arrested on suspicion of espionage.
"Some people who collected and transferred information to strangers were identified and some were arrested, and some might be arrested in the future,'' Gholam-Hossein Esmaili said.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a nonprofit group based in New York, said at least nine other staff members and executives of Seyed-Emami's organization had been arrested on the same day as him, citing a relative of one of those detained.
It said Emami's family was under pressure to immediately bury him and forgo an independent autopsy.
"Claims that Seyed Emami's death was a suicide have no credibility whatsoever. This is a prison system out of control and a judiciary that is actively colluding in a massive cover-up," said Hadi Ghaemi, the CHRI's executive director.