Iran General NewsSon of slain Iranian-Canadian photojournalist says Iran is playing...

Son of slain Iranian-Canadian photojournalist says Iran is playing games


Canadian Press: Stephan Hachemi reacted skeptically Tuesday to news that Iran’s Supreme Court will begin a new investigation into the death of his photojournalist mother four years ago.
The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – Stephan Hachemi reacted skeptically Tuesday to news that Iran’s Supreme Court will begin a new investigation into the death of his photojournalist mother four years ago.

The Montreal-based Hachemi says he is certain a fresh probe into Zahra Kazemi’s death in Iran will bring no new sanctions.

“They’re doing this to improve their own image, to create a different story that would appeal better to people,” Hachemi told The Canadian Press.

“They want to project a nice image of their government, both on an international and national level because this case was very important for the people of Iran as well.”

Kazemi, 54, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died on July 11, 2003, after being arrested days earlier while taking photographs outside Evin prison in Tehran. She was never formally charged with any crime.

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

The more conservative judiciary rejected those findings and later claimed Kazemi died in custody from an accidental fall.

“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 Tuesday, referring to the initial court that ruled in the case.

The case was appealed to Iran’s Supreme Court earlier this year.

Before the judiciary ruled that she died from an accidental fall, prosecutors filed a charge of semi-premeditated murder against a secret agent who interrogated Kazemi while she was in custody. In 2004, a court acquitted the secret agent, and an appeals court upheld that ruling in 2005.

“We’re extremely skeptical,” John Terry, the family’s lawyer, told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview. “The family’s experience with the Iranian justice system is that it is not a fair and just system.”

The motivations behind the announcement are hard to guess, Terry said.

“I really hesitate to read the tea leaves of Iranian politics because the judiciary is very politicized,” he said.

But Terry and Hachemi speculated the Iranian justice system may be mindful of comments from some lawyers in Iran who have criticized the way the case has been handled. And Hachemi adds that a lawsuit filed in Quebec may be behind the decision.

The Iranian government has retained a Montreal lawyer to battle the $17-million civil suit filed in Quebec Superior Court against Iran, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi and prison official Mohammad Bakhshi.

That suit is slowly edging its way towards a trial phase next fall.

“It’s not really about the $17 million that we’re asking, it’s about changing the law that will open the door to many other similar cases,” said Hachemi.

“I think they’re trying to take some of the weight off this civil suit, to create a sort of diversion.”

The Canadian government has blamed Mortazavi for Kazemi’s death. Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a cover-up by reporting that Kazemi died of a stroke.

As a result, Canada recalled its ambassador in 2003 to protest how Iran was dealing with the case.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing Kazemi’s relatives have repeatedly said they did not believe the secret agent was guilty and have accused Bakhshi, chief of intelligence at the prison, of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the conservative judiciary of illegally detaining her. The judiciary cleared Bakhshi of any wrongdoing.

Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, acting as the chief lawyer for the victim’s mother, rejected the court’s rulings involving the secret agent as flawed and threatened to take the matter to international organizations if other legal stages failed to deliver justice.

But Hachemi says Ebadi is by no means acting on his or his family’s behalf and has never consulted with him on the matter.

Terry was to speak to Canadian government officials and said he planned to urge them to press Iran to open the door to Canadian government and family involvement in the investigation.

In Ottawa, Helena Guergis, secretary of state for foreign affairs, said Canada has “long called for a new and credible investigation” into the death.

“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.

Francois Bugingo of Reporters Without Borders Canada said the Iranian court decision showed the courts are not immune to protests from abroad by agreeing to revisit the case. But Bugingo also echoed the sentiments of Hachemi and his Canadian legal team.

“I’m not that optimistic there’s going to be a positive aftermath from all this,” Bugingo said from Montreal.

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