British Columbia·Video

After 582 days, woman detained in Iran after husband's death reunites with sons in Vancouver

The wife of an Iranian-Canadian professor who died in an Iranian jail after being accused of espionage has been reunited with her sons in Vancouver, more than one year after they were separated at Tehran's airport.

Iranian-Canadian Maryam Mombeini and her sons tried to leave Iran together in March 2018, but she was detained

From left, Ramin Seyed-Emami, Maryam Mombeini and Mehran Seyed-Emami are pictured after being reunited at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 10. Mombeini had been separated from her sons since March 8, 2018. (Ramin Seyed-Emami/Twitter)

The wife of an Iranian-Canadian professor who died in an Iranian jail after he was accused of espionage has been reunited with her sons in Vancouver, more than a year after they were separated at Tehran's airport.

Maryam Mombeini sobbed as her sons enveloped her in a hug at Vancouver International Airport after her arrival late Thursday. Ramin and Mehran Seyed-Emami, who had long advocated to bring their mother to Canada, held Mombeini and quietly cried. 

The family's German shorthaired pointer dogs, which had led the charge across the room, tripped over themselves at Mombeini's feet.

It was the first time mother and sons had seen each other in 582 days. Border guards stopped Mombeini from leaving Iran at the Tehran airport on March 8, 2018, after letting her sons through.

"Tears of joy ... It's so wonderful to be a family again," Ramin Seyed-Emami tweeted Friday. "We can finally begin our next chapter in peace."

Ramin Seyed-Emami shared video of the reunion with his mother online and with CBC:

An Iranian-Canadian woman whose husband died in an Iranian jail was reunited with her sons in Vancouver on Oct. 11, 2019, more than a year after she was separated from them at Tehran's airport. 0:47

The previous, far darker, chapter began when Kavous Seyed-Emami, an acclaimed environmentalist who co-founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 with six other activists and accused of spying. 

Within two weeks, he was dead.

Authorities told Kavous's family that he'd committed suicide, but loved ones believe prison guards are "directly responsible" for his death.

Iranian authorities denied the family's request for an autopsy and Ramin Seyed-Emami complained that the family was not allowed to pursue a formal investigation into his father's arrest, death or treatment during detention.

The death prompted outrage in Iran and among human rights officials over the treatment of detainees, as well as, the family said, an aggressive intimidation campaign against the family that including a nationally televised "smear campaign" and death threats.

Mombeini and her sons said they chose to leave Iran for their safety. They were split up when Mombeini, then 55, was stopped at the airport in Iran as she and her sons were boarding a flight to Germany with plans to continue to Vancouver. 

Ramin and Mehran, both Canadian citizens, were allowed to board, but border guards said Mombeini, who also holds Canadian citizenship, was forbidden to leave the country. Her Canadian passport was confiscated.

In a photo provided by his family, Kavous Seyed-Emami, an Iranian-Canadian professor, is pictured in Ammameh, Iran in 2017. (Representative of the Seyed-Emami Family/Handout via REUTERS)

Mombeini urged her sons to go on without her. 

After they left, Maryam Mombeini was briefly detained by Iranian officials before being returned to Tehran. Her sons said she relied on family and friends for financial support over the following 18 months, as authorities in Iran had long since seized the deeds to the family home and the other assets.

An undated photo provided by the family of the late Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami shows him, second right, and his wife, Maryam Mombeini, right, and their two sons in Iran. (Handout via the Associated Press)

Ramin and Mehran fought to bring their mother to Canada in the months after their arrival, imploring Justin Trudeau's government to intervene in the case and investigate their father's death. Ramin, Mehran and Mombeini had all previously lived in Vancouver and Toronto.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland tweeted her relief early Friday at news of Mombeini's arrival in Canada, commending the family's "tremendous" bravery, but Global Affairs Canada has not yet responded to a request to specify which role, if any, Canada played in the reunion.

Ramin Seyed-Emami declined an interview in an email Friday, saying he and his brother were processing the "sudden turn of events" that led to their emotional reunion.

However, he said he and his family were overwhelmed with support and "grateful to the Canadian government, and specifically Foreign Minister Freeland for their unwavering support from day one. We are also thankful to Iran for allowing our mother, Maryam Mombeini, to finally leave and join us in Vancouver."

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub and the Associated Press

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