Journalist dies after arrest in Iran; family can't get answers

By Sardar Haddad
Monday, July 21, 2003

Montreal-based photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested by the Islamic Republic on June 23 as she photographed families demonstrating outside the notorious Evin prison in northern Tehran in protest at the arrests of pro-democracy students.

Ms. Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, believes his mother was beaten into a coma while in custody. After the beating she had severe cuts and bruises on her face and head. Ms. Kazemi died on July 11 at the Baghiatollah Azam military Hospital in Tehran. She was born in Iran and she had dual Canadian and Iranian nationality. Ms. Kazemi, 54, worked for Camera Press Institute.

Ms. Kazemi's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, told Canada's National Post that when she saw her daughter comatose in Baghiatollah Hospital, Zahra's eyes never opened, her face appeared swollen, and her head was partly shaved. Restricted to looking into the intensive care unit from behind a window, the mother could not even reach out and caress her only child. She asked whether she could bring in a specialist to treat her daughter, but the hospital refused. She has been denied access to her daughter's body.

Zahra Kazemi's son and mother want her body returned to Canada to be examined by independent medical experts. Reporters Without Borders supported the family's wish to repatriate the body to Canada, where she lived. It also called for independent international organizations to carry out an investigation into the circumstances of her death.

The Islamic Republic first claimed that Ms. Kazemi died of a brain stroke. Subsequently, the regime changed its story and the Islamic Republic's Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi admitted that she was beaten during or after her arrest. The regime will continue to change its story hoping that the world will lose interest in Ms. Kazemi's murder. The mullahs have a habit of pretending to investigate murders that are committed by their Hezbollahi goons, and always quietly pardon the murderers.

"We hold the Iranian authorities responsible for Zahra Kazemi's death," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said, accusing them of arresting her in an arbitrary manner and failing to take the necessary steps to provide her with adequate medical attention. "Her death serves as a tragic reminder that Iran is one of the harshest regimes in the world for journalists," he added.

"We have to be strong in our resolve to demand an independent inquiry and call Iran to task for its handling of this grotesque incident," Joel Ruimy, head of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, told CBC television.

France's Liberation newspaper has reported that Hezbollahi prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi hit Zahra Kazemi while interrogating her. Mortazavi's has brutalized and tortured numerous political prisoners.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien has said that Ottawa wants Kazemi's body returned to Canada so it can verify the cause of her death independently.

Canada's Deputy Prime Minister John Manley said that if the issues surrounding Ms. Kazemi's death cannot be resolved, it would be a "setback" in relations with Iran.

The family "deserves a full explanation for what happened" Mr. Manley said. "The body should be returned."

The Canadian Alliance party demanded that Ottawa expel Iranian diplomats until Ms. Kazemi's body is returned.

"If we fail to respond, we signal to regimes like Iran's that they can murder our people with impunity," said the Alliance's Stockwell Day.

The Islamic Republic has postponed a planned visit by Ambeyi Ligabo, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights special rapporteur on promoting the right to freedom of opinion and expression, who had been due to arrive in Tehran on July 17 for a 10-day visit.

During the pro-democracy demonstrations in June in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and other cities, the Islamic Republic killed several demonstrators and imprisoned more than 4,000 protestors. The regime has not allowed the imprisoned demonstrators to choose lawyers to defend themselves.

The Islamic Republic has murdered many innocent Iranians, including writer Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani, and political leader Dariush Forouhar and his wife. Those responsible for the murders have not been prosecuted or imprisoned. The Khomeinist regime will pretend to investigate the murder of Ms. Kazemi, but experience indicates that the investigation will be a whitewash and the murderers will not be prosecuted. The mullahs have no credibility in such investigations.

If the journalists, international human rights organizations and democratic political leaders do not condemn the brutal murder of Zahra Kazemi and pressure the mullahs to send her body to Canada for an independent and thorough autopsy, the Ayatollahs will get away with murder again.

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