Wife of Iranian-Canadian who died in jail barred from leaving Iran: Son

Iran’s academic community was in shock on Feb. 11, 2018 following the death of renowned environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami, who authorities claimed committed suicide in prison a fortnight after his arrest. (Family Handout/AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Wife of Iranian-Canadian who died in jail barred from leaving Iran: Son

LONDON: The wife of an Iranian-Canadian environmental activist who died in prison in Tehran last month was barred from leaving Iran, one of her sons said, in an unexplained move that drew an angry response from Canada.
Raam Emami said in an email to journalists that security forces had not allowed his mother Maryam Mombeini to get on a plane to Vancouver with him and his brother on Wednesday night.
Mombeini is the widow of Kavous Seyed-Emami, an environmental activist and sociology professor who was arrested on Jan. 24 and died in prison. Iran’s judiciary said Seyed-Emami, 63, had committed suicide.
The family has called for independent probe into his death.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, said in a message posted on Twitter that she was “outraged” to learn that Mombeini had been barred from leaving Iran.
“We demand that, as a Canadian, she be given the freedom to return home,” she added.
Iranian judiciary officials were not immediately available for comment.
Seyed-Emami was the managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect Iran’s rare animals. Iran’s judiciary said he had set up the NGO as a cover to collect classified information on Iran’s missile program.
Raam Emami said the family decided to leave Iran after being constantly “harassed.”
“The government raided our home and seized all of our valuables (most importantly deeds to our homes), we can no longer stand this state of constant terror,” he said.
Raam Emami has previously said that the family was under pressure from authorities not to publicize the case of Seyed-Emami.
“The authorities told our lawyers to tell the brothers ‘to shut up or we’ll shut them up,’ Emami said, adding government agents had told him they were watching him.
Human rights activists have reported that at least six detainees have died in prison in the last two months in Iran. The judiciary has confirmed three deaths in custody but said all three had committed suicide.
Bilateral ties between Iran and Canada worsened in 2003 when an Iranian-Canadian photo journalist, Zahra Kazemi, died in Tehran’s Evin prison while in custody.
Canada cut all diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012.


In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

Updated 20 June 2018
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In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

  • Fearing Syria’s regime would expropriate abandoned properties or tamper with deeds, a network of activists and lawyers try to preserve Syria's official document.
  • Assad regime passes a series of laws that rights defenders fear may unfairly dispossess Syrians from their properties.

BEIRUT: The external hard drive had been smuggled from Syrian regime territory through jihadist-held towns and into Turkey. When Ghazwan Koronful finally got his hands on it, he sighed in relief.
Loaded onto the disk were pictures of thousands of title deeds from towns in central Syria recently recaptured by government troops and largely emptied of their residents.
Fearing Syria’s regime would expropriate abandoned properties or tamper with deeds, a network of activists and lawyers set their covert plan into motion.
“It was our most complex operation yet,” said Koronful, a 65-year-old Syrian lawyer who heads the network from Turkey, where he has lived in exile since 2012.
For nearly five years, Koronful’s Free Syrian Lawyers (FSL) have been working to preserve property deeds and other civil paperwork in Syria’s opposition areas.
They enter town registries, photograph the documents, carefully log and organize them, then smuggle the hard drives across Syria’s sealed northern border into Turkey.
“In total, we’ve got eight terabytes of documents, about 1.7 million documents — court records, wills, birth, marriage, and death certificates,” said Koronful.
Among them are up to 450,000 land-related documents from northern and central Syria — title deeds, contracts, and other papers that displaced Syrians could use to prove property ownership.
These documents are crucial now, Koronful explained, as the government passes a series of laws that rights defenders fear may unfairly dispossess Syrians from their homes.
“Our work simultaneously protects against hostilities that could damage the deeds, and against the regime’s attempts through these new laws to tamper with people’s properties,” he told AFP.
“Those files represent the hope of return.”

FSL sprang into action after Homs city’s registry was destroyed in a fire in 2013, which activists suspected was a regime bid to strip oppositionists of their land.
Smuggling out original deeds from other towns was risky and could be considered tampering, so the FSL’s 15 lawyers opted for the next best thing: digital copies.
With help from civil society group The Day After, they traveled to Turkey to learn how to handle, photograph, and archive documents.
Back in Syria, they began working through abandoned registries in northern rebel towns: Harem, Azaz, Saraqeb.
“We set up a little studio in the room with the most light,” said an FSL lawyer still in Syria who identified himself as Samer.
With just four Canon digital cameras, two laptops, flashes, and tripods, they photographed thousands of deeds, making sure names and dates were clearly visible.
“As soon as we’d finish one 200-page ledger, we’d upload the SD card onto the computer. Meanwhile, the camera didn’t stop. We’d put a new card in and start photographing again,” Samer, 43, told AFP.
Each month, they emptied their computers onto external drives which they sent to Koronful in Turkey.
They raced against air strikes that damaged cameras and wounded staff members, worrying registries would be bombed to pieces before they could finish.
“When we reached the last page, we’d be so happy to be finished. Whatever happens now, if we get bombed, we have a drive with everything on it,” said Samer.
Sometimes they lost the race. In 2013, days before FSL was to begin photographing deeds in the northern town of Al-Bab, Daesh swept in and destroyed the registry, Koronful said.
They now struggle to get permission to enter registries from suspicious rebels, especially in militants-run Idlib, occasionally photographing in secret.

Since Syria’s war erupted in 2011, more than six million people have been internally displaced and another five million have fled the country.
More than 920,000 have been displaced this year alone, the UN said, the fastest rate yet in the seven-year war.
A vast majority leave behind property-related papers, the Norwegian Refugee Council found in polls last year.
That puts them at risk of losing access to their land through decrees like Law 10, which allows for property expropriation for urban development.
Koronful fears the regime could also dispossess refugees through legislation on re-issuing damaged deeds.