An Iranian lawmaker on Tuesday criticised a recent crackdown on environmental activists and officials, saying it risked “bad consequences for the country”, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
Parliament’s environmental and transparency committees held a closed-door session in which they discussed the arrest on espionage charges of several NGO workers earlier this year.
One detainee later died in custody.
“Some… have accused these individuals of spying, but the expert views of the Intelligence Ministry are almost exactly contrary to them,” said Mohammad Reza Tabesh, head of parliament’s environment committee, according to ISNA.
He was relaying information provided by the head of the government’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Isa Kalantari.
Iran has multiple and competing intelligence agencies.
One is under the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani and another under the Revolutionary Guards, who have opposed his efforts to rebuild ties with the West.
The lawmakers discussed Kaveh Madani, a young water expert who took leave from his post at London’s Imperial College last year to become deputy head of the EPA.
It was revealed on Monday that Madani, who had faced weeks of pressure from hardline opponents of the government, had abruptly resigned while travelling outside the country.
Kalantari told the lawmakers that Madani had wished to carry on his work “despite the pressures exerted,” according to the account given by Tabesh.
“But he resigned because his parents were not happy.”
Madani released a cryptic message on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Yes, the accused has escaped from a land in which online ignorance has rejected science, knowledge and expertise,” he wrote.
“They have realised that finding a guilty person, enemy and spy is much easier than accountability and participation in resolving problems.”
Madani’s appointment had been seen as a test of Rouhani’s efforts to attract expat Iranians back home.
But Madani he was briefly detained in February in mysterious circumstances, then vilified by hardliners after photos were released purporting to show him dancing and drinking on holiday.
Among the environmentalists arrested in recent months were seven members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Organisation.
Its head, renowned environmentalist Kaveh Seyed Emami, died in Tehran’s Evin prison in February after being accused of spying for the United States and Israel.
Iranian authorities said he committed suicide in his cell, but this has been disputed by the family.
Iran is suffering from a range of extreme environmental problems, including world-beating levels of air pollution and years of drought that have devastated swathes of its agricultural land.