02/11/2018 12:01 EST | Updated 02/11/2018 12:01 EST

Kavous Seyed-Emami, Iranian-Canadian Professor, Has Reportedly Died In Tehran Prison

He was detailed last month.

Samid Lotfi, Center for Human Rights in Iran/The Canadian Press Handout
Kavous Seyed-Emami is seen in this undated photo.

TEHRAN, Iran — The death of an Iranian-Canadian professor in Iran points to a pattern of the country's judicial authorities targeting dual nationals, according to the head of a non-profit agency that promotes human rights in Iran.

Kavous Seyed-Emami, a professor of sociology at Tehran's Imam Sadiq University, was detained last month, according to Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

He died in custody less than three weeks later, according a social media post from his son, who goes by the stage name King Raam.

"The news of my father's passing is impossible to fathom," Raam wrote in a post on Twitter and Instagram Saturday morning. "I still can't believe this."

In an email to The Canadian Press, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the department is aware of reports of Seyed-Emami's death, and staff in Turkey are in contact with the family of a Canadian citizen.

"Consular officials in Ankara are working to gather additional information and are providing assistance to the family," Natasha Nystrom wrote.

"Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, further details on this case cannot be released."

Canada has not had an embassy in Iran since 2012, and the two countries have no formal diplomatic ties.

Questioning official cause of death

Raam wrote in his social media post that his mother had been told his father took his own life in prison, but Ghaemi said the family is pushing for an independent autopsy.

"The claim of a suicide is highly questionable," Ghaemi said in a telephone interview, while admitting he had "no idea" how the professor may have really died.

"I do know the interrogation tactics and psychological pressures are very extreme on the detainees — especially in the first few weeks," said Ghaemi.

"They're isolated, they're incommunicado. Their food intake is manipulated, and they are kept in psychological conditions that even a young, healthy person would find very difficult," he added.

"So given Kavous was 63 years old, I am very concerned."

Ghaemi said Seyed-Emami's detention is part of a two-year trend of Iranian authorities accusing prominent dual nationals of espionage, but he noted the charges are "rarely backed up by any evidence."

They're isolated, they're incommunicado. Their food intake is manipulated, and they are kept in psychological conditions that even a young, healthy person would find very difficult.Kavous Seyed-Emami

The case recalls that of Homa Hoodfar, a 65-year-old retired anthropology professor from Montreal, who was detained in Iran in for several months in 2016 and indicted on unknown charges.

In media interviews after her release, Hoodfar said she was threatened and psychologically tortured over dozens of interrogations.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian academic who was detained in Iran earlier this year, speaks during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 1, 2016.

In addition to his role at the university, Seyed-Emami was the managing director of the environmental group the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

According to a post on its website, the group "strives to ease the heavy strain on rare wildlife of Iran."

Ghaemi said Seyed-Emami was a founder of the group, which he called "the leading environmental NGO in Iran," and he was detained along with nearly a dozen other members.

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