• Feud between hardliners, president expands to surprise arena
• Involvement of Western-linked activists fuels showdown
Bloomberg, February 13, 2018 - Iran’s environmental woes have ignited a new front between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his hardline opponents, with the stakes raised by the death in prison of an Iranian-Canadian environmentalist and several arrests.
An area of activity once considered innocuous in Iran has taken on political overtones, in part because it involves dual nationals and expatriates, disparaged by hardliners as tainted by Western mores. At least four environmentalists have been taken into custody, and Iran’s hardline judiciary said several people were detained for “giving classified information from sensitive centers” to U.S. and Israeli intelligence services.
The feud turned more fraught over the weekend with the death of Kavous Seyed Emami, an academic, and confusion about the whereabouts of Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment.
The president, re-elected in May, is under increasing pressure from both rivals and ordinary Iranians to make good on campaign promises to improve the economy by attracting foreign investment after a decade of strict sanctions. President Donald Trump’s threat to withdraw from the nuclear accord has damped foreign interest in Iran, which was already compromised by remaining U.S. proscriptions against some trade with the Islamic Republic.
Hardliners were jubilant when protests erupted in December against the Rouhani government’s handling of the economy, though their satisfaction faded after demonstrators turned on the clerical and security establishment as well.
Authorities said Seyed Emami, the Iranian-Canadian academic, committed suicide, an allegation his family questions. Government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said Tuesday that prisoners are “entrusted” to judicial officials, and their well-being is a responsibility, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Madani, an American-educated former lecturer at Imperial College in London, seems to have been released after a brief detention. He appeared in an Instagram live video Monday and the German ambassador to Tehran posted a picture of him after they met.