Wife of academic who died in Tehran prison barred from joining sons on flight to Vancouver

Click to play video: 'Questions surround Canadian’s death in Iran prison'
Questions surround Canadian’s death in Iran prison
WATCH: Questions surround Canadian’s death in Iran prison – Feb 14, 2018

The two sons of an Iranian-Canadian academic who died suddenly in a Tehran prison in February are on their way to Vancouver to begin a new life there, but Iranian authorities barred their mother from joining them at the last minute.

In an email sent to journalists, Ramin Seyed-Emami said he and his brother Mehran were set to depart Tehran late Wednesday night local time. He said they were scheduled to arrive at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday morning.

The pair are the children of Kavous Seyed-Emami, an environmental activist and university professor who died in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison under suspicious circumstances.

Kavous Seyed-Emami is seen in this undated handout photo.
Kavous Seyed-Emami is seen in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Samid Lotfi, Center for Human Rights in Iran

Authorities accused Seyed-Emami of being a spy, and claimed he committed suicide in prison after learning of new confessions made against him. But human rights groups accused Iran of orchestrating a state cover-up.

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READ MORE: Iran covering up ‘suicide’ death of Iranian-Canadian activist in prison: rights groups

Ramin’s email stated that his departure, and the authenticity of his message, would be confirmed by Thomas Erdbrink, Tehran bureau chief for The New York Times, on Twitter.

Erdbrink tweeted this photo of Ramin (left) and his brother awaiting take-off, minutes before Global News received Ramin’s letter. Erbdrink also separately confirmed the authenticity of Ramin’s letter to Global News.

But the brothers say their mother was barred from boarding the flight at the very last minute.

“They ripped our family apart once,” Mehran told Erdbrink on the phone. “Now they are doing it again”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “outraged” to learn that Seyed-Emami’s widow was not allowed to leave Iran.

Ramin’s email stated that he and his family had decided to flee Iran to escape the persistent harassment meted out to them by Iranian authorities.

“Although we are coming there with nothing, since the government raided our home and seized all of our valuables (most importantly deeds to our homes), we can no longer stand this state of constant terror,” he wrote.

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“My mother has to be taken to the hospital every other day because of the panic attacks that she is suffering from. My brother and I are followed and under surveillance everywhere we go. The authorities told our lawyers to tell the brothers ‘to shut up or we’ll shut them up,’ the government agents ‘bumped’ into me and said they’re watching me. These are the conditions that we are living under at the moment.”

He also compared his father’s plight with that of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer who died in Evin Prison in 2003.

Kazemi died after being brutally tortured and sexually abused by authorities, who arrested her because she took photos of protesters outside the prison, according to the Canadian Centre for International Justice.

READ MORE: Supreme Court says Zahra Kazemi’s son can’t sue Iran over mother’s torture, death

“Keeping my father’s legacy alive is my priority right now. It took 15 years for Iran to semi-officially admit that Zahra Kazemi… wasn’t a spy and that they were at fault,” Ramin wrote.

“We have to make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again (as impossible a feat it may seem), but through raising awareness about the injustices in Iran, and pressuring the Iranian government to not cower to the revolutionary guards and their militia who operate outside of the law.”

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READ MORE: Iran protests, deadly clashe revive debate on Canada’s ties with country

Ramin said the Canadian government had been in constant communication with him, and helped advise him on his journey from Iran to Canada. He added that he and his brother were told they would be greeted by Mississauga, Ont. MP Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Freeland, upon their arrival at the airport.

“We hope that the government’s presence will send a message that this type of aggression towards any Canadian citizen at home or abroad will not be tolerated,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada confirmed that MP Alghabra would be on hand to greet Ramin and Mehran.

Ramin also paid tribute to his father, and lamented the impact of his death on the family.

“For such a peaceful man, who only lived to serve and love, to suffer such a tragic fate is utterly devastating not only for us but for a very large group of people who believed in his work and were inspired by his hope for a better future.”

Ramin Seyed-Emami shared this photo on Instagram on Feb. 13, 2018, while sharing the news of his father’s death.
Ramin Seyed-Emami shared this photo on Instagram on Feb. 13, 2018, while sharing the news of his father’s death. @KingRaam / Instagram

Ramin’s email concluded with a final request to members of the media.

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“I am sending this from inside the plane on the runway which means we are officially ready for lift off. If something were to go wrong and they didn’t allow us to leave the country please inform the whole world.”

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