Iran General NewsKazemi's slaying stirs calls for action on Iran

Kazemi’s slaying stirs calls for action on Iran

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The Globe and Mail: The Conservative and New Democratic parties joined forces yesterday to demand Ottawa dramatically ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Iran after revelations that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was brutally raped
and tortured while in Iranian custody in 2003.
“We want the government to do what they should have done almost two years ago, which is to drop the failed approach of soft-peddling and soft diplomacy, and make tough demands,” Tory foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day said. The Globe and Mail

By MICHAEL DEN TANDT AND MARINA JIMÉNEZ

The Conservative and New Democratic parties joined forces yesterday to demand Ottawa dramatically ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Iran after revelations that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was brutally raped and tortured while in Iranian custody in 2003.

“We want the government to do what they should have done almost two years ago, which is to drop the failed approach of soft-peddling and soft diplomacy, and make tough demands,” Tory foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day said.

Both Mr. Day and his NDP counterpart, Alexa McDonough, said Canada should withdraw its ambassador to Iran if Ottawa doesn’t immediately get satisfaction from Tehran on key issues, such as the return of Ms. Kazemi’s remains to her family in Canada and a new criminal investigation subject to international monitors.

At a press conference in Toronto yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew brushed aside the calls for a new approach, saying Canada is already doing all it can to seek justice for Ms. Kazemi.

Mr. Pettigrew said the new testimony in the Kazemi case, which comes from the emergency-room physician who examined her before she died, “certainly demonstrates gruesome details that make it extremely troubling, most disturbing. But it does not change the nature of the dossier.”

Economic sanctions by one country alone don’t work, Mr. Pettigrew said. And he dismissed the notion of recalling Canada’s ambassador. “We need an ambassador there to promote our case,” he said.

Mr. Pettigrew added that Canada has known from the outset that Ms. Kazemi was murdered. “We do not accept the Iranian government’s allegations that this was an accident. We never have.”

However, Prime Minister Paul Martin, to whom Ms. Kazemi’s family made a personal appeal yesterday for action, signalled a somewhat tougher position.

“I read the story this morning the same way we all did, and it’s virtually impossible to not have your heart torn by what happened to her, and what her family and son must feel reading that,” Mr. Martin told reporters while on a visit to Whistler, B.C.

“I must say that, by any standard, this is simply unacceptable. Canada, through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, is obviously voicing that view, and we are looking at what steps to take,” he said.

Mr. Martin said that Ms. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, had asked for a meeting with his officials and that he immediately agreed.

In Ottawa yesterday, Dr. Shahram Azam — a former physician with the Iranian security police who last month received asylum in Canada — spoke in great detail about the gruesome injuries to which Ms. Kazemi eventually succumbed in July of 2003.

She had a badly broken nose, a smashed eardrum, broken fingers, a crushed toe, missing fingernails and toenails, a severe head injury, signs of flogging, and deep bruising all over her body, he said.

An examination by an emergency-room nurse revealed “brutal” damage to Ms. Kazemi’s genital area, which the nurse said could only have been the result of violent rape. “Those injuries, extensive and severe as they were, could only have been sustained during torture, Dr. Azam said. “It was the first time I saw someone who was tortured,” he said in Farsi, speaking softly but confidently. “It was shocking for me.”

Dr. Azam’s testimony is the first account by a medical witness that categorically contradicts the official Iranian explanation for Ms. Kazemi’s death, which is that she died after fainting and hitting her head.

Dr. Azam said he’d examined Ms. Kazemi early on the morning of June 27, four days after she’d been arrested while taking photographs of a student protest outside Tehran’s Evin prison.

Lawyers for Mr. Hachemi called on the federal government to use Dr. Azam’s evidence to initiate a more aggressive approach to seeking justice for Ms. Kazemi from Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic government.

“What we have now is evidence that the Department of Foreign Affairs and other international agencies should be holding Iran accountable.”

Lawyer Marlys Edwardh said that the family’s appeal to Mr. Martin was made in a letter yesterday. The letter proposes new avenues through which the government might bring pressure to bear on the Iranian regime, Ms. Edwardh said.

She said Ottawa could take legal steps that would make it easier for Mr. Hachemi to sue the government of Iran for compensation. She also suggested that the government could press Iran to enter into international mediation on the issue.

Both Mr. Day and Ms. McDonough castigated the government for its apparent inaction on the Kazemi file since the Department of Foreign Affairs first learned of the new medical testimony last November. “If they knew then that [Ms. Kazemi”> was tortured, why did they resume normal relations?” Mr. Day asked.

Canada withdrew its ambassador to Tehran last July in protest over the Kazemi affair, but appointed a new ambassador to the post in late November.

Mr. Pettigrew acknowledged that Canada’s ambassador to Iran has not yet discussed Dr. Azam’s evidence with the Iranian government. “The diplomatic relations are not yet at that level,” he said.

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