Body found in Hermann Park identified as exiled Iranian human rights activist

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Life as an Iranian prisoner did not shake Ali Akbar Ajami’s commitment to activism.

His two-year sentence from 2010 to 2012 — based on charges of collusion and propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security — stemmed from his political activism as a law student at Tehran University, friends and colleagues say.

Later, as an exile living in Virginia and later Houston, his work continued to focus on human rights abuses among those less fortunate in his home country.

Authorities in Houston now have identified Ajami, 36, as the man whose body was discovered May 6 in McGovern Lake in Hermann Park. Detectives have found no evidence of trauma or foul play, according to Houston police, but the investigation remains active.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has not officially determined his cause of death.

“It’s heartbreaking what happened to Ali,” said Keyvan Rafiee, the founder of Human Rights Activists in Iran who hired Ajami as an editor of the Human Rights Activists News Agency. “He was very smart and had a quite inquisitive mind. When he worked at our organization, he did so much for what he was passionate about, which was advancing the cause of human rights. Unfortunately, he never adapted to life as a refugee in a new country as he missed his homeland tremendously.”

Ajami in 2016 moved to the United States as a refugee and last year migrated to Houston. Mohammad Tootkaboni, who also was imprisoned for political activism in Iran, described his longtime friend as a strong-willed person who never compromised his beliefs, even in the face of severe punishment. They spoke often, but in the last few months of his life Ajami had become more reclusive, he said.

Lately, Tootkaboni felt his friend was showing signs of depression, though he never spoke openly about it. In general, Tootkabani said, refugees in the United States are not given enough support, both financially and socially.

“He was someone who really struggled all his life just to survive and have a decent life,” he said. “Not only for himself, but also for everyone around him, as part of his political ideology and beliefs. I think he was victim to a complex system of state suppression … and maybe social neglect in the United States.”

Ajami was originally from Sabzever, a small village in eastern Iran. At Tehran University, he participated in political demonstrations as part of a socialist student movement and served as editor of a left-leaning student publication.

According to Rafiee, he was arrested in 2009 in the aftermath of a controversial election that reinstated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president. Ajami’s charges eventually led to his expulsion from the university, just months before his graduation, Rafiee said.

Source » houstonchronicle

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