Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Iran court orders probe of reporter's death

`WHITEWASHING' A judge had ruled that the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi after being arrested was an accident, not the result of being tortured by police officers


Iran's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a new investigation into the 2003 death of a jailed Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who a judge ruled had died from an accidental fall despite earlier findings that she was beaten to death in custody.

Iran's Supreme Court decided that the first court that ruled in freelance photojournalist Zahra Kazemi's death was not qualified to investigate, a spokesman said.

"Judges at the Supreme Court have objected to the court investigating the case, saying it was not competent to investigate the case," Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the initial court that ruled in the case.

Lawyers for Kazemi's family said they hoped a new investigation could lead to new charges in the case.

"This is a decision is in the right direction. Now, we want a full, free and fair reinvestigation into the deliberate murder of Kazemi," Mohammad Seifzadeh, a lawyer representing Kazemi's mother, said on Tuesday.

Canadian Secretary of State Helena Guergis said: "Canada has long called for a new and credible investigation into the death of Ms Kazemi."

"Iran has an obligation to the Kazemi family to ensure that the perpetrators of this terrible crime are brought to justice and the rights of the family are upheld," Guergis said. "Today the media reports suggest that the Iranian Supreme Court has made a decision to reopen the case. Our government would welcome any decision to reopen this case and hope that it offers justice to Ms Kazemi's family and to her memory."

But John Terry, the Canadian lawyer for Kazemi's family, said Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, did not think much of the Supreme Court's decision.

"He knows the truth already. He knows that Iranian officials have tortured, raped and murdered his mother. Until the Iranians are willing to recognize that and hold those accountable for that he's not going to see this as an important development," Terry said.

"I don't see it going anywhere," he said. "We don't have confidence in the Iranian system. We've seen one trial that was resulted in essentially a whitewashing of Iranian officials."

Later on Tuesday, Kazemi's son said the new investigation was "just a diversion" and that "nothing is going to come out of Iran, that's for sure."

"There is no justice there. It's not something we can call a justice system. Those responsible for this crime are the government, the whole government of Iran," Hachemi said from Montreal. "They are a bunch of criminals from A to Z ... The criminals themselves run the justice system there."

Hachemi said the Iranian court likely ordered the new investigation because of his own civil lawsuit against the government. He also urged Canada to take Iran before the International Court of Justice.

Kazemi, a Canadian journalist of Iranian origin, died on July 11, 2003, after being arrested days earlier while taking photographs outside Tehran's Evin prison.

She was never formally charged with any crime, but Iran does not allow photographs of its prisons and is especially sensitive about Evin prison, which is known to hold political prisoners. Human rights also have accused Iran of committing abuses against prisoners at Evin -- a charge the government denies.

Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke, but a committee appointed by then-president Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, found that she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage caused by a "physical attack."

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