Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iran bars foreign media, envoys from trial

JOURNALIST'S MURDER Officials told diplomats that they had to have written permission from the Foreign Ministry to attend the trial, while foreign reporters were told there was no room

REUTERS , TEHRAN

Ezzat Kazemi, left, the mother of slain Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Kazemi family lawyer Shirin Ebadi talk to journalists during an a break in court proceedings in Tehran on Saturday. Ezzat Kazemi testified on Saturday that her daughter had been tortured and that her body had been burned on the chest, and that her fingers, toes and nose had been broken.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Iran's hardline judiciary yesterday barred diplomats and foreign media from the trial of an intelligence agent accused of killing a Canadian journalist in custody last year.

The move followed dramatic proceedings on Saturday when the mother of 54-year-old photographer Zahra Kazemi told the court her daughter had been tortured to death in prison.

The case has strained Iran's relations with Canada, which announced the withdrawal of its ambassador last week, and exposed deep rifts between the reformist government and judiciary.

Court officials told diplomats from Canada, the Netherlands, Britain and France -- who had attended the court on Saturday when the trial resumed after a nine-month delay -- that they needed written permission from Iran's Foreign Ministry to enter.

Journalists who work for foreign media organizations, who were also permitted to watch Saturday's session, were told there was no room in the courtroom yesterday. Journalists working for local media were allowed to enter.

The diplomats warned the move could have a serious impact on international perceptions of Iran's human rights record, already shaken by revelations emerging from the trial.

"This will have a bad impact on the human rights issue," said one of the diplomats, who declined to be named. "The next time it comes to discussing Iran's human rights situation we will have nothing positive to say."

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, who was unaware of the court's move to bar diplomats and journalists, said the trial was transparent and that Tehran would not accept any international pressure over the case.

"We have to be accountable to Iranian citizens about this case, not to a foreign country," Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference. "The court is open which shows that we have no concerns about the case."

Kazemi, a Canadian of Iranian descent, was arrested outside a Tehran jail last July for taking photographs.

Her tearful mother told the court on Saturday she had seen evidence that her daughter was tortured to death.

"There were burns on my daughter's chest, her fingers and nose and toes were broken ... she was tortured to death," Ezzat Kazemi told the court.

Iran's judiciary initially said Kazemi had died of a stroke. But a government inquiry showed she received a blow to the skull while in prison that cracked her skull causing a brain hemorrhage. She died in hospital 10 days after lapsing into a coma.

Intelligence agent Mohammad Reza Aqdam has denied the prosecution's charge of "semi-intentional murder."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who is representing Kazemi's family, has accused the judiciary of ignoring evidence which pointed to other suspects working for the judiciary itself.

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