The sons of an Iranian-Canadian academic who died under unclear circumstances in a Tehran prison have arrived in Canada after their mother was barred from leaving Iran.
“Instead of being able to grieve the loss of our father in peace, we have been forced to endure constant threats and harassment by the Iranian authorities,” Ramin Seyed-Emami told reporters from Vancouver International Airport Thursday.
“They’re trying to prevent us from rebuilding our lives,” he added. “To separate my mother from her two sons at such a crucial time is inhumane.”
Iranian authorities announced on Feb. 9 that 63-year-old sociology professor and environmental activist Kavous Seyed-Emami had killed himself while being detained in the country’s Evin Prison — a facility notorious for housing intellectuals and political prisoners. Seyed-Emami had reportedly been arrested on Jan. 24 on charges of espionage: an accusation, like the alleged suicide, that has been rejected by the academic’s family.
“My father’s death will not be in vain,” Ramin said Thursday with his brother Mehran Seyed-Emami at his side. “He loved his country and should have never been arrested in the first place. I know he would have been proud of us now: we have chosen to speak up, we have chosen love over fear.”
The brothers were supposed to travel to Canada with their mother, Maryam Mombeini, who was barred from departing Iran Wednesday night.
“The authorities have also confiscated our mother’s Iranian passport to intimidate us into being silent about our father’s case,” Ramin said.
Iran does not recognize dual nationals, thus excluding people like Mombeini from receiving consular assistance.
Iran’s actions were blasted by Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland in a tweet early Thursday.
“We demand that, as a Canadian, she be given the freedom to return home,” Freeland wrote.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Freeland reiterated that stance while welcoming the brothers home.
“(W)e were outraged to learn that their mother, Maryam Mombeini, Mr. Seyed-Emami’s widow, was barred from leaving Iran for no apparent reason,” Freeland said. “We call on the Government of Iran to immediately give Maryam Mombeini, a Canadian citizen, the freedom to return home.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ramin, a musician who performs under the name ‘King Raam,’thanked Freeland and her team at Global Affairs Canada for maintaining constant contact with his family.
“The Foreign Minister herself called her, which was a very respectful gesture, and to give comfort to my mom that she’s going to be fine, she’s going to be OK,” Ramin said.
“She’ll be home soon,” Mehran added.
Ramin said that his mother urged him and his brother to board the flight without her.
“She just wanted us to be safe and on that plane,” he said, choking back tears. “She said, ‘I just want you guys to be safe and away from this horrible place, and no matter what happens to me, don’t ever come back.’”
Starting in late December, Iran was racked by days of widespread protests that resulted in at least 25 deaths and nearly 5,000 arrests at the hands of the country’s infamous security forces.
Speaking on Freeland’s behalf Thursday, Omar Alghabra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that Ottawa is “going to apply all kinds of diplomatic pressure to see (Maryam Mombeini) reunited with her family.”
Canada’s ability to exert diplomatic pressure on Iran, however, has been severely limited since former Prime Minister Stephen Harper severed diplomatic relations with the country in 2012. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he wanted to normalize relations with Iran during the 2015 federal election, no known steps have been taken to this effect.
“We are exercising direct channels through the mission at the United Nations and also through our partners in Italy,” Alghabra explained. Italy currently handles Canadian interests in Iran.
According to Alghabra, however, the country has so far ignored Freeland’s request to speak with her Iranian counterpart.
“For us, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” Alghabra added. “(W)e have responsibility towards our citizens and we’ll do whatever we can to assist them.”