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By Parisa Hafezi
ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran's judiciary said on Sunday an Iranian-Canadian activist had committed suicide in detention because of the weight of evidence against him in a spying case, an Iranian news agency reported.
Kavous Seyed-Emami's son on Saturday wrote on Twitter that his father, arrested on Jan. 24, had died in prison. Environmental activist Seyed-Emami, 63, a dual national, was a sociology professor at Iran’s Imam Sadegh University.
"The news of my father's passing is impossible to fathom," son Raam Emami wrote. "I still can't believe this." The family has asked for an independent autopsy, he said.
Seyed-Emami was the managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect Iran's rare animals, and a U.S.-trained scholar in sociology.
"He was one of the defendants in a spying case and unfortunately he committed suicide in prison since he knew that many had made confessions against him and because of his own confessions," Tehran's prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi told the semi-official ILNA news agency.
On Saturday, Jafari-Dolatabadi said Iran's security forces had arrested several people who had been "gathering classified information in strategic areas ... under the coverage of scientific and environmental projects".
Authorities on Friday called Seyed-Emami's wife to say her husband had committed suicide in Tehran's Evin prison, his son tweeted.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a non-profit group based in New York, said at least nine other staff members and executives of Seyed-Emami's organisation had been arrested on the same day as him, citing a relative of one of those detained.
They include an Iranian-American dual national, Morad Tahbaz, CHRI said. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States was "aware of reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Iran".
Separately, Iran's judiciary has announced in recent weeks the suicides of two Iranians among those arrested during nationwide anti-government protests last month.
Their families, rights groups and lawyers have rejected the explanations of their deaths and demanded an independent investigation.
An Iranian official in Tehran said more arrests were expected in connection with Seyed-Emami's organization.
"A group of those who gathered strategic intelligence and handed it over to foreigners have been identified. Some of them were arrested and some others might be arrested soon," the head of Tehran's Justice department Gholamhossein Esmaili told ILNA.
In 2003, an Iranian-Canadian photographer, Zahra Kazemi, was beaten to death in Evin prison after she was detained while taking pictures. Her death led to a downgrading in diplomatic relations between Iran and Canada.
There is currently no Canadian embassy in Iran, which does not recognise dual nationality. A spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, which manages Canadian foreign and trade relations, said on Saturday the government was aware of reports of the death of a Canadian citizen in Iran.
Dozens of dual nationals are in jail in Iran, mostly on spying charges.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Andrew Roche)