of justice in Iran: This time Zahra Kazemi’s killer received impunity
A.H. Jaffor Ullah
you plan on visiting Iran anytime soon make sure that you leave your
camera and other paraphernalia back home.
Or else, you may end up dead just as Ms. Zahra Kazemi, a
freelance journalist from Canada, did.
For additional safety, do not utter any defamatory sentences to
make fun of hardliners in Teheran.
They will get you for blasphemy and you may spend years in jail
if not sentenced to death via a kangaroo court.
I am not making all this up!
Only in July 2004, did a small time university lecturer sentenced
to 5-year jail-term for mildly offending the clerics.
The lecturer, Hashem Aghajari, was first sentenced to die in a
quick trial a year ago. This brought widespread protest among the
students in Iran. He was tried again and receive a more
“lenient” sentence of 5-year in jail for just saying that Iranians
are not monkeys to follow the order of Mullahs.
That trial has attracted attention of many civil rights activists
from Iran and outside world.
second trial in Teheran that dealt with Canadian freelance journalist
Zahra Kazemi’s sudden death in the hands of Iranian officials also had
drawn attention from many civil rights groups around the globe.
However, as predicted, the accused, a low-level intelligence
official, was acquitted in a speedy trial.
This has caused anger and dissatisfaction among many lawyers,
civil rights activists, and Canadian officials were also surprised by
the outcome of the speedy trial.
did go wrong a year ago with Ms. Zahra Kazemi when the Iranian police
incarcerated her? Zahra
Kazemi, a 54-year-old freelance photographer with dual nationality, was
arrested on June 23, 2003 for taking photos of worried relatives of
arrested students who gathered outside Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
That had annoyed the Iranian government.
They had her arrested and tortured while she was in custody.
She died on July 10, 2003 in Baghiatollah hospital in Tehran
after being beaten very severely inside the interrogation cell.
Reputed newsperson rights group ‘Reporters Sans Borders’ (RSB)
said on July 8, 2004 as the trial for Kazemi’s death under way in
Teheran, that it fears that impunity will prevail in the case of Zahra
Kazemi. And guess what.
That prediction by the RSB came true. In
a statement RSB said, “We suspect that the senior Iranian officials
implicated in this murder will remain unpunished and that a scapegoat
will be convicted in order to put an end to a case that is embarrassing
for the regime.”
Iranian officials first did not admit any wrongdoing in the death of the
Canadian journalist. However,
six days later on July 16, 2003 they admitted that she was “beaten.”
To suppress the evidence of body injury, Ms. Kazemi's body was
hastily buried in the southern town of Shiraz on 22 July 2003, contrary
to the wishes of her son, Stephan Hashemi, a permanent resident in
Canada. The government said
the dead journalist’s mother had “ordered” the burial.
Now Zahra Kazemi’s mother had publicly acknowledged that she
was pressured into authorizing her daughter’s burial in Shiraz.
Kazemi’s son had requested that his mother’s remain be
disinterred and repatriated to Canada.
But the request fell into deaf ear.
Iranian authorities are ignoring Mr. Kazemi’s pleas.
under pressure, Iran’s President Khatami requested on July 13, 2003
that a commission of enquiry determine the circumstances of Zahra
Kazemi’s death. And they
did. The commission had
determined that Kazemi was interrogated by Teheran State Prosecutor Said
Mortazavi, the police, the prosecutor’s staff, and then by officials
from the intelligence ministry from June 23 through 27, 2003.
a report released a week later, the commission said that between the
time of her arrest on 23 June and her transfer to hospital on 27 June,
Kazemi was interrogated in turn by the staff of Tehran state prosecutor
Said Mortazavi, the police, the prosecutor's staff again, and finally by
officials with the intelligence ministry. The commission’s report said
the deadly skull fracture that caused her death occurred no more than 36
hours before her hospitalization at midnight on 27 June.
Thus, according to timeline established by the commission, the
fatal injury could have occurred while she was in the custody of the
prosecutor's staff or the intelligence ministry. The medical staff had
determined that Kazemi was brain dead by the time her body was brought
to the hospital. The
authorities suppressed the news of Kazemi’s death for 14 days.
the military prosecutor's office assigned Kazemi's case on July 23, 2003
to Mortazavi, but he subsequently rescued himself because of the
allegations that he was directly involved in her death.
The commission of enquiry had previously determined that
Mortazavi personally took part in a marathon interrogation session
within hours of her arrest. Thus,
the case was transferred to Judge Esmaili at the end of July 2003.
the meantime, an internal fight broke out between reformist and
conservative clans, which blamed each other for Kazemi's death.
When dust settled, an Iranian intelligence agent by the name
Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi was named the suspected killer on September
Iranian judicial authorities rule out any question of state
institution’s involvement in the murder and pointed finger at Reza
Aghdam Ahmadi for the death of the Canadian journalist.
The Kazemi family had appointed Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi
as one of their lawyers. Ms.
Ebadi had based her case on the medical evidence that the blow or blows
that were inflicted on Kazemi with the intention of killing her had did
her in. Another lawyer,
Mohamad Ali Dadakhah, maintains that the court has no jurisdiction and
that an assize (Session) court should deal with the case.
Dadakhah also reported that a second person by the name Mohammad
Bakhshi, who is prison official at Evin, had been charged in the case.
Mohammad Bakhshi, an official at Evin prison, also had assisted
the Tehran prosecutor, Mortazavi. This
piece of information was prominently displayed in a website hosted by
President Khatami’s party. It
seems as if Khatami’s group is trying to shift the blame on
July 24, 2004, a court in Teheran acquitted the defendant, Reza Aghdam
Ahmadi, the Iranian intelligence agent, in the murder of Canadian
photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. This
high profile case has severely threatened diplomatic ties between Canada
and Iran. After hearing the
“not guilty” verdict Ms. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate
who led the four-member legal team, said the court was not competent and
the legal proceedings were flawed.
This is quite an allegation against the Iranian judiciary.
Ms. Ebadi is an international figure now; what she says goes
beyond Iran and her scathing criticism against the court system there
will have repercussion round the globe.
exasperated Shirin Ebadi told the newspaper reporters: “I’m required
to work until my last breath to make sure that justice is done to my
client.” She even
threatened to take the matter to international organizations if the
Iranian judiciary fails to mete out justice in Kazemi’s murder.
Her defiance was expressed when she said, “I’ll protest this
verdict. If the appeals
court and other legal stages fail to heed our objections, we will use
all domestic and international facilities to meet the legal rights of my
is noteworthy that Ebadi's team had angered hardliners by accusing
prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Ms.
Kazemi and the conservative judiciary of illegally detaining her.
Ms. Ebadi was so incensed that she even refused to sign the bill
of indictment - which implicated Ahmadi and cleared Bakhshi of any
wrongdoing - and demanded that the court summon several top officials,
including hardliner Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, to explain
Kazemi's murder. Ms. Ebadi
is seriously considering filing a case against Bakhshi for the brutal
murder of the Canadian freelance journalist.
If that efforts of her fail, then she would turn to international
Iranian court had decided to give compensation, which is known as
“blood money” in Iran, to Kazemi's family.
The average compensation now paid to relatives of a Muslim man
killed is about $18,750. The
payment is about half that if the victim was Christian, Jewish,
Zoroastrian or a woman, regardless of her religion.
summary, Iranian justice system had sided with the government while
meting justice in the case of the brutal murder of an Iranian origin
Canadian freelance journalist. After
all, justice is not blind in Iran.
The victim’s lawyer, the Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, had
complained very bitterly about the verdict that made a mockery of
Iranian justice. She is not
about to give up the case. Her
voice is being heard loud and clear allover the globe.
Iranian government thought once the verdict is given, the case of
Zahra Kazemi would be put to rest.
That was not the case to be.
Ms. Shirin Ebadi’s voice carried the message all around the
globe and in the process, Iran’s judiciary received a black eye quite
A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans,