Iranian-Canadian academic's death in Iran prison a 'profound tragedy,' says Alberta prof

Iranian-Canadian academic Kavous Seyed-Emami has died in prison in Iran. He was a visiting scholar in 2017 at the University of Lethbridge, where a colleague spoke about the environmental activist and "well-rounded sociologist."

Kavous Seyed-Emami was a visiting scholar at the University of Lethbridge in 2017

Environmental activist Kavous Seyed-Emami speaks at the University of Lethbridge in October 2017. (Prentice Lethbridge/YouTube)

A colleague of Iranian-Canadian academic Kavous Seyed-Emami describes the professor's death in prison in Iran as a "profound tragedy."

Trevor Harrison is a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge and sponsored Seyed-Emami when he came to the southern Alberta post-secondary institution on sabbatical from August to mid-December of last year.

"He was a really interesting guy, very well read, very much a scholar. He had a quite eclectic set of interests from economics, politics, very much the environment, he was a very well-rounded sociologist," Harrison said.

I think any of the number of us who had the occasion to meet him while he was over here are all feeling like it's a very big loss.- Trevor Harrison, University of Lethbridge

"And I have to say, just a really nice gentleman. He was a warm and engaging individual, very kind and just a wonderful person to meet."

Seyed-Emami, 63, was a professor of sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran and the managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect Iran's rare animals.

His son, musician Raam Emami, tweeted that his father was arrested on Jan. 24, and that the news of his death was released to his mother, Maryam, on Friday, Feb. 9.

"I still can't believe this," he wrote.

Raam and the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran say that authorities told Seyed-Emami's family that he committed suicide in custody, something they described as suspicious following other detainee deaths.

Seyed-Emami presented a lecture to Lethbridge students last October, on ethnic identities and nationhood in Iran.

The lecture was presented by the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy at the university, which researches global impacts of demographic, economic and social issues.

Seyed-Emami's arrest was not announced in Iran, and his death was not confirmed by official sources.

Kavous Seyed-Emami, (right), is seen in this undated photo with his son, Mehran, and wife, Maryam. (Family photo)

Harrison met with Seyed-Emami on a number of occasions while he was in Alberta, and said that he, along with his wife and other colleagues, had the opportunity to dine at his house one night. The group ate Iranian food that Seyed-Emami prepared.

He said the news of the professor's passing leaves him "floored."

In Iran, Kavous Seyed-Emami was known for instilling a love of nature in his students and he started a hiking group to encourage them to experience the outdoors, a family member said. (Family photo)

"I was absolutely devastated, I think I still am. I think any of the number of us who had the occasion to meet him while he was over here are all feeling like it's a very big loss, he's a fine person," he said.

Canada has no embassy in Iran. A spokesperson for Global Affairs told CBC News in an emailed statement that consular officials "are working to gather additional information and are providing assistance to the family of the Canadian citizen."


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press