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Iran: Trial To Resume In Case Of Slain Canadian-Iranian Photographer

The trial of an Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry agent charged in the murder of Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi while in detention will resume on 17 July in Tehran. The defendant, Mohammad Reza Ahmadi, pleaded not guilty in the first and only session of the trial in October. A team of five lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, will represent Kazemi's family. The trial comes as many in and outside Iran have expressed concern that the real officials involved in Kazemi's death will remain unpunished.

Prague, 15 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The trial of the suspect in the murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi resumes 17 July, a year after her death.

The suspect, Intelligence and Security Ministry interrogator Mohammad Reza Ahmadi, faces charges of "participation in a semi-intentional murder."

The press watchdog Reporters Without Borders recently reported that a second suspect -- an official from Iran's notorious Evin prison, Mohammad Reza Bakshi -- has also been charged in the case.

The 54-year-old Kazemi died in a Tehran hospital in July 2003 from a head injury suffered during beating while she was in Iranian custody.

Kazemi, a freelance photographer, was arrested the previous month in front of Evin prison while taking pictures of families of political prisoners. While in detention, she was interrogated by the Prosecutor-General's Office, the police, and the Intelligence and Security Ministry.

Kazemi was reportedly severely beaten during interrogations and hit on the head with a blunt object -- reportedly a shoe -- which resulted in a brain hemorrhage. She was transferred to a hospital on 27 June. Her death was announced two weeks later on 10 July.

The case prompted an international outcry and soured ties between Canada and the Islamic republic.

Yesterday, Canada recalled its ambassador to Iran, in protest over Tehran's decision to bar Canadian observers from the trial when it resumes on 17 July.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said the case involved the death of a Canadian journalist in Iran, and Canada had the right to witness the conduct of the trial.

Earlier, Iran's Foreign Ministry had promised a fair trial. But it stressed the Kazemi case was a domestic issue, and that the presence of foreign observers was "unacceptable" and a violation of international principles.
Last year, Iran's then-reformist parliament issued a report accusing hard-line prosecutor Said Mortazavi of arresting Kazemi on false charges and then covering up the circumstances of her death.

Kazemi's case has also sparked tensions within Iran, between the republic's conservative judiciary and the reformist-dominated Intelligence and Security Ministry. Each side has accused the other of being responsible for Kazemi's death.

The Intelligence Ministry has repeatedly denied any role in Kazemi's death. Iranian President Mohamad Khatami has echoed the denial, and has supported the ministry in the case. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Khatami said he believes the defendant is not guilty, and that the court will ultimately name the true guilty party.

Last year, Iran's then-reformist parliament issued a report accusing hard-line prosecutor Said Mortazavi of arresting Kazemi on false charges and then covering up the circumstances of her death. Kazemi's death was originally announced to be the result of a stroke.

Mortazavi -- who is known as the "butcher" of the Iranian press, because of his closure of scores of pro-reform publications -- has denied the charges and accuses the reformists of spreading lies.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is one of the lawyers representing Kazemi's family. In an interview with RFE/RL, he cite court evidence that indicates Mortazavi personally interrogated Kazemi. "It's clearly written in a part of the dossier that [Mortazavi] interrogated Mrs. Kazemi sometime in the early-morning hours," he said. "It's mentioned in the dossier."

Dadkhah also said the criminal court due to hear the evidence against Ahmadi is not competent to hear the case. "We will object to the court's competency. In my belief, based on the law of public and revolutionary courts, the court [due to hear the case] is not competent," he said. "A provincial court, which includes five judges, should hear this case."

Zahra Kazemi's son, Stephan Hashemi, has dismissed the upcoming trial as a "farce" that will fail to target the real culprits in his mother's murder.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed similar doubts. Emily Jacquard, RSF's spokeswoman in Canada, said: "[We] suspect that the Iranian official who has been involved in this murder won't be punished, and that they're going to take a scapegoat and convict him [instead], and it's going to put an end to Zahra Kazemi's case."

In Tehran, Kazemi family lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is slightly less pessimistic, saying there should be no rush to "prejudge" the outcome. "We should not make any prejudgment," he said. "We hope that on [17 July], when the court starts its work, that it will pay sufficient attention to our objection. I think Iran's national interest and the world's atmosphere urge us to abide completely by the law. We hope to face a court that believes in and abides by the law."

Earlier this week, the PEN Canada anticensorship organization, along with the World Association of Newspapers, the World Press Freedom Committee, and other press organizations, called on Iran's judiciary to bring to justice and punish not only the perpetrators of the crime but also those officials who ordered it.

They said this was the only way to show that "Iran is committed to breaking a cycle of impunity in the killing of writers and journalists in the country."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.