Tue, Jul 20, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iran's judiciary abruptly halts murder trial

`SEMI-INTENTIONAL' The EU criticized Iran's handling of the trial in which a secret agent is charged with causing the death of Zahra Kazemi

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AFP , TEHRAN

Iran's judiciary on Sunday abruptly ended the trial of an intelligence agent charged with killing an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist and said a verdict would come later. Lawyers for the victim's family left the court in protest, saying the court had not heard their witnesses' testimony.

The photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, died July 10 last year from a brain hemorrhage caused by a blow to her head while in custody, an investigation team appointed by President Mohammad Khatami concluded. She was detained after she took photos outside Evin prison in Tehran, which is notorious for holding political dissidents.

The man charged with the "semi-intentional murder" of Kazemi is a secret agent, Muhammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison.

But the legal team representing Kazemi's family, led by the Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, accused a judiciary official, Mu-hammad Bakhshi, of having inflicted the fatal blow and illegally detaining Kazemi.

"It is clear that the person who inflicted the blow is free and the person who has not done so is standing trial and will later be acquitted, and the whole crime will be covered up," one of the law-yers, Muhammad Seifzadeh, told journalists outside the court on Sunday.

Ebadi told journalists that Aghdam Ahmadi's lawyer had identified the real killer but that the court had refused to pay attention. "We will use all legal methods to restore the rights of our client," she said. "We will continue until our last breath."

Aghdam Ahmadi's lawyer told the court Sunday that a witness had said Bakhshi inflicted the blow, the ISNA news agency reported.

On Saturday, Kazemi's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, testified in court that she had been forced to consent to a quick burial of her daughter. She said it was clear her daughter had been tortured, because her breasts were burned and a hand and foot were broken.

The case has strained relations between Iran and Canada. Last week, Canada said it was recalling its ambassador from Tehran in protest after Iran refused to allow Canadian observers to attend the trial.

On Sunday, the Canadian ambassador, Philip MacKinnon, as well as European diplomats and foreign journalists, tried to enter the court, but all were told they did not have the necessary permission.

Canada has accused Tehran's hard-line public prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, of responsibility for Zahra Kazemi's death, saying he had been aware of her detention. Mortazavi and several officials who investigated Kazemi's death were among the people Ebadi had asked the court to summon to testify.

The EU said yesterday that it deplored Iran's handling of the trial.

"The presidency of the EU expresses its concern that the proceedings in the case against the person accused of causing the death in custody of ... Mrs Zahra Kazemi ... were concluded in a very short time and in a way that does not do justice to the severity of the case," said a statement from the Dutch EU presidency.

"The presidency deplores that EU and other diplomats in Tehran have been refused full access to the court," it added, referring to a move by the Islamic republic's hardline judiciary to bar foreign observers from Sunday's proceedings.

"This situation can only strengthen our concern that justice may not be done in this case and that no light will be shed on the exact circumstances of the gruesome death in custody of Mrs Kazemi," it added.

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