Iran Human RightsCanadian Who Died in Iran Was Tortured: Refugee

Canadian Who Died in Iran Was Tortured: Refugee

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Reuters: A female Canadian photographer who died in Tehran two years ago after being arrested had been badly tortured and quite possibly raped, an Iranian refugee to Canada said on Thursday.
The account by Shahram Azam, who said he was an emergency room doctor in Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard Hospital at the time, contradicts the official Iranian line that 54-year-old Zahra Kazemi died after she fainted and hit her head. Reuters

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA – A female Canadian photographer who died in Tehran two years ago after being arrested had been badly tortured and quite possibly raped, an Iranian refugee to Canada said on Thursday.

The account by Shahram Azam, who said he was an emergency room doctor in Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard Hospital at the time, contradicts the official Iranian line that 54-year-old Zahra Kazemi died after she fainted and hit her head.

The death of Iranian-born Kazemi exposed deep rifts between Iran’s reformist government and hard-line judiciary and focused attention on what activists say is the country’s bad human rights record.

Azam said he had examined Kazemi after officials brought her to the hospital late on June 26, 2003, three days after she had been arrested for taking photographs of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where dissidents are often jailed.

He said Kazemi had numerous injuries including a damaged skull, a broken nose, broken fingers, missing fingernails and toenails, a smashed big toe, a ruptured left eardrum, battered feet, evidence of a flogging and bruises all over her body.

“I could see this had been caused by torture … it was the first time I’d seen someone who had been tortured. It was shocking,” Azam told a news conference through an interpreter.

Azam said that as a male doctor in an army hospital, he was not allowed to examine Kazemi’s genitals. A female nurse who tried to insert a catheter noticed “brutal damage to the genital parts”, he said.

Azam, who along with his family has been granted asylum in Canada, said he was able to leave Iran last year by pretending he needed medical treatment abroad.

Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said Azam’s testimony proved what Ottawa had been saying from the start of the case — “We know this was a murder, not an accident” — but he brushed off opposition party demands to withdraw Canada’s ambassador.

“We need an ambassador there precisely to promote our case. We want a strong ambassador to demonstrate how serious we are … to push Tehran for justice to be rendered,” he told reporters in Toronto.

Kazemi died on or around July 11, 2003, and her death sparked a war of words between Iran and Ottawa. Canada withdrew its ambassador after Tehran refused to return the body to Canada and later recalled the envoy once again after he was refused access to the trial of her alleged killer.

Iran’s judiciary initially announced that Kazemi had died of a stroke. But a government inquiry revealed she received a heavy blow during questioning, which split her skull and caused a brain hemorrhage.

Last year Iran’s judiciary acquitted an intelligence agent charged with killing Kazemi and now says she died accidentally by fainting and striking her head on the floor.

Ottawa says Iran’s hard-line courts covered up the real circumstances of the Kazemi’s death in order to protect senior judiciary officials implicated in her murder.

The Iranian embassy in Ottawa was closed for a national holiday on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

(With additional reporting by Stefanie Kranjec in Toronto)

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