Reporters Without Borders wrote to each of the European Union's 15 foreign ministers today urging them to put pressure on Iran over the murder of Zahra Kazemi, a journalist with both Iranian and Canadian citizenship. The letter was also addressed to the foreign ministers of the 10 countries that are about to join the EU, which has been conducting a "constructive dialogue" with Iran since 1998.
"We would like to formally ask you to do everything in your power to get the Iranian authorities to agree to the formation of an independent commission of enquiry that would include international experts," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard wrote. "Those responsible for Kazemi's death must be identified, brought to trial and punished."
The organisation also ask the foreign ministers to support Canada in its representations to the Iranian authorities.
A resident in Canada for the last 10 years or so, Kazemi was on a visit back to Iran when she was detained on 23 June while photographing the relatives of detainees outside Evin prison, north of Tehran. She was beaten while in custody and died as a result of her injuries on 11 July.
The Iranian authorities at first tried to conceal the causes of her death. But on 16 July, Vice-President Ali Abtahi recognised that she had been "beaten." Nonetheless, her body was hastily buried on 22 July in the southern town of Chiraz, although that her mother, a resident in Iran, initially asked for her body to be repatriated to Canada. She acknowledged on 30 July that she had subsequently been pressured into giving permission for the body to be buried in Iran. The Canadian authorities have not stopped requesting the body's repatriation ever since Kazemi's death was announced.
Some reformist parliamentarians have gone so far as to blame Kazemi's death on the judiciary, a conservative stronghold. The Tehran prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, is said to have concealed the circumstances of the death and to have pushed for a rapid burial. In a letter published in the newspapers on 24 July, Mohammad Hussein Khoshvagt, director for foreign press at the culture ministry, acknowledged that Mortazavi forced him to announce that Kazemi's death was due to a cerebral haemorrhage. Mortazavi allegedly accused Khoshvagt (who is in charge of issuing press visas to foreigners) of issuing one to a spy.
The reformist parliamentarian Mohsen Amin said it was Mortazavi who gave the order for Kazemi's death to be attributed to cerebral haemorrhage, and who told the family to bury her very quickly. Amin also said that Kazemi told the police who questioned her that she had been hit on the head.
Another reformist parliamentarian, Elaheh Koulaie, attributed Kazemi's death to a climate of press censorship and hostility to any criticism.
On 30 July, Vice-President Abtahi spoke openly of "murder." On 11 August, the spokesman for the judiciary, Gholam Hossein Elham, recognised that Kazemi died as a result of a blow to the head, but said individuals were at fault, not an institution.
Nonetheless, the use of torture appears to be common in Iranian prisons. President Khatami's brother, in an open letter dated 9 July, called for measures to prevent abuses against political prisoners. Moreover, after leading a UN commission on human rights fact-finding mission to Iran, Louis Joinet in February 2003 voiced concern about conditions of detention, especially the widespread use of very long periods of solitary confinement which, he said, could be considered as a "prison within prison" and lent itself to arbitrary application.
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