OTTAWA – A Conservative senator is calling out the federal Liberal government for its anodyne response to reports that an Iranian-Canadian university professor has died while in custody in Iran.
The semi-official ILNA news agency says Iranian lawmakers have confirmed that Kavous Seyed-Emami took his own life while behind bars and that part of the incident was captured on CCTV footage.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy in Iran, was quoted as saying Seyed-Emami’s family had “accepted” the suicide finding and did not ask for an autopsy.
“The video showed that Seyed-Emami takes his shirt off and prepares for suicide,” Boroujerdi said.
Omar Alghabra, Canada’s parliamentary secretary for consular affairs, tweeted that the Canadian government was “concerned” about the circumstances of the death and had “asked” Iran for answers.
That prompted a strong response from Sen. Linda Frum, who wondered on Twitter why Ottawa wasn’t taking a harder line in demanding to know what happened.
“‘Concerned’?! How about outraged?” Frum tweeted. “‘Asked’ for answers? How about demanding the immediate releases of his body to Canada?”
Considering that he was a university professor, Seyed-Emami was being kept in a proper cell, Boroujerdi said. “Unfortunately, Kavos Seyed-Emami, for whatever reason, could not bear the prison conditions,” he added.
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted a spokesman for the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, as saying, “The issue is quite clear because prepares his shirt as a rope to commit suicide.”
Seyed-Emami tried to make it appear to guards that he was asleep, Hosseini added.
Frum, however, isn’t buying it.
“Of course, we can place absolutely zero validity on that,” she said in an interview. Evin Prison, where Seyed-Emami was being held, is a notorious place where it’s impossible to take one’s own life, she said.
“You’re not in control of your own life when you’re inside Evin Prison,” Frum said. “The fact that the professor died in prison, to me, says that he was murdered, and that that’s the only thing that could have happened to him there.”
On Saturday, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said authorities had arrested several unidentified people on suspicion of spying under the cover of implementation of scientific and environmental projects.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the 2015 election campaign to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, but a brutal crackdown on widespread unrest in that country late last year prompted opposition calls on the government to reconsider.
Canada, should be demanding an independent autopsy, performed by Canadian examiners, said Frum.
“In the absence of that, I think they should be presuming that this is now another Canadian national who’s been murdered in Evin Prison,” she said.
“It is outrageous, and I think they should be suspending their talks on reopening the embassy with Iran.”
— With files from Jim Bronskill