Mon, Jul 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Reformists condemn death of photojournalist in Iran

AFP , TEHRAN

Iranian reformist MPs yesterday blasted the judiciary for allegedly killing a Canadian-Iranian photographer, saying heads have to roll in the hardline bastion if the Islamic republic's reputation is to be restored.

In a parliamentary debate over the death of 54-year-old Zahra Kazemi carried live on state radio, one outspoken reformer also pointed the finger at Tehran's puritanical public prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, for failing to prevent her death.

"She was arrested and was hit and beaten. She had a brain haemorrhage because her skull was broken," said Mohsen Armin, a reformist deputy and senior member of the Majlis committee on foreign affairs and national security.

"Instead of respecting the dignity of journalists and the reputation of the Islamic republic by punishing those who beat her, Mortazavi ordered her to stay in detention" -- despite recommendations to the contrary from the intelligence service, he alleged.

Kazemi, 54, was arrested on June 23 for taking photographs of protestors outside Evin prison in northern Tehran, who were demanding the release of relatives locked up during last month's wave of anti-regime protests.

She was transferred three days later to Baghiatollah Azam hospital, which is run by the hardline Revolutionary Guards, where she died. Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi fell ill while she was being questioned.

Armin said that Mortazavi had accused her of being a spy and then tried to cover up the killing.

Mortazavi "ordered a story put out that she simply died of a brain haemorrhage, and ordered the family to urgently bury her," Armin told deputies in a barrage of criticism levelled against the judge over the Kazemi case and the recent jailing of a number of pro-reform journalists and pro-democracy students who were involved in a recent wave of anti-regime protests.

"The death of a foreign journalist is not a trivial matter," Armin said, telling embattled pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami that an investigation that merely states the cause of death "is not enough."

"If we stay silent and do nothing about this it will eventually lead to serial killings," Armin said, referring to a string of murders of dissidents in 1999 that were eventually blamed on "rogue" agents.

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