A top Iranian environmental scientist wooed by Hassan Rouhani’s administration to return home from the UK has left Iran amid a crackdown on environmentalists and pressure from hardliners.
Kaveh Madani had been persuaded to leave his position at Imperial College London last year to serve as the deputy head of Iran’s environment department.
He was seen as a symbol of Rouhani’s efforts to reverse the country’s brain drain, but his decision to step down less than a year later demonstrates the president’s failure to curb the power of the unelected faction of the Iranian establishment that is bent on undermining his policies.
Madani was named as one of the four winners of the Arne Richter award for outstanding young scientists by the European Geosciences Union in 2015. His appointment in Iran was widely applauded. The water conservation expert was promoted because of his expertise and international profile rather than his political affiliation, at a time Iran is facing its worst drought in modern times.
At 36, Madani was the youngest and the most educated government official at his level. His resignation and decision to leave the country has sparked a online huge reaction.
When Iran carried out mass arrests of environmental activists in February, Madani was detained for 72 hours. It also emerged at the time that an Iranian-Canadian environmentalist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody in mysterious circumstances. At least 13 other activists remain behind bars.
As hardliners launched an onslaught against Madani in the conservative press at the end of March, images surfaced on social media that they said showed him drinking and dancing abroad. Others accused him of being a dual national at a time when suspicion runs high against such Iranian citizens, despite the fact that Madani is solely Iranian.
Madani confirmed the news of his departure from Iran on Twitter after an outspoken member of the parliament broke the news. “Yes, the accused fled from a country where virtual bullies push against science, knowledge and expertise and resort to conspiracy theories to find a scapegoat for all the problems because they know well that finding an enemy, spy or someone to blame is much easier than accepting responsibility and complicity in a problem,” he wrote.
Madani has been critical of Iran’s past policies on water, believing the country has passed the time of crisis and entered an era of water bankruptcy. He has been particularly critical of Iran’s aggressive dam building and cloud seeding. Many such policies have been propagated by the Revolutionary Guards through its industrial arm, which has benefited from the projects.
This meant Madani fell foul of the Guards, who act independently of Rouhani’s administration and have huge influence within the judiciary and the intelligence apparatus.
After his appointment, Madani had tweeted: “I have returned with the hope of creating #hope.” In December, he told the Tehran Times that “there are a lot of people abroad, waiting and watching closely to see what’s going to happen. If I succeed, we might see more people coming back to help the government”.
Abbas Milani, an Iranian-American historian and the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, said on Twitter that Madani’s departure was an instance of a 38-year battle between elites “who want good for Iran and know how to rescue it” and those who were hiding their hunger for power and self-interest under the cover of Islam.
Morad Tahbaz, Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jokar, Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian and Hamideh Kashani-Doust are among other activists still in jail.
Source » theguardian