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Reporters Without Borders denounces "disgraceful" banning of foreigners from trial of photojournalist's alleged killers in Iran

Reporters Without Borders called on Iran today to reverse its "disgraceful" decision to bar Canadian diplomats from the 17 July resumption in Teheran of the trial of those responsible for causing the death of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in July last year by beating her during interrogation at Teheran's Evin prison.

"We urge the authorities to keep their promise and ensure that foreign observers can attend the whole trial, especially Canadian diplomats and representatives of the Canadian branch of Reporters Without Borders, whose requests for visas to go to Iran have not been answered," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The Iranian government's stubborn refusal to behave in an open manner about someone who died while in official hands is absolutely disgraceful. If this decision is confirmed, it is a very poor commentary on the fairness and seriousness of the Iranian legal system," it said.

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the pledge by Canadian foreign minister Bill Graham to keep up pressure in the case, which he said was very important for Canada and Canadians and for journalists everywhere.

It called on the Canadian government, which has recalled its ambassador in Teheran in protest against the 14 July refusal, despite earlier promises, of Canada's request to have its observers in court, to consider imposing sanctions on Iran.

In response to Graham's charge that Iran had broken its promise, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the case was a "domestic issue."

Graham said Canada expected justice to be done in a credible and open manner. It would "regard the handling of the trial as a signal of the depth of the government of Iran's commitment to human rights," he said in a letter to Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi.

The death of Kazemi, 54, who lived in Montreal, has poisoned relations between Iran and Canada, which had first recalled its ambassador in Teheran in July last year when the authorities refused to allow the body to be returned to Canada.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and three fellow lawyers will attend the trial for the first time when it resumes, representing Kazemi's mother. One of the lawyers, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who is spokesman for the human rights group led by Ebadi, said the court was "not competent" to try the resumed case.

Two defendants are expected to appear - Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, who was accused last year, and according to Dadkhah, prison official Mohammad Bakhshi, who was only recently charged and who has already been accused of involvement on the website ( of President Mohammad Khatami's political party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, in the role of assistant to Teheran prosecutor Said Mortazavi.

The hardline judiciary is locked in a power struggle with reformists around President Khatami and each side accuses the other of responsibility for the murder. The judiciary said on 22 September last year that intelligence ministry agent Ahmadi was the killer. The ministry is controlled by Khatami supporters.

Kazemi was arrested on 23 June 2003 as she was taking pictures of prisoners' families outside Evin prison, north of Teheran. She was beaten in detention and died of her injuries on 10 July. After trying to cover up the cause of death, the authorities admitted on 16 July that she had been "beaten."

Her body was hastily buried on 22 July in the southern town of Shiraz, against the wishes of her Canadian son Stephan. Her mother, who lives in Iran, admitted being pressured to allow burial in Iran. Requests for the body to be exhumed and returned to Canada have been refused.

... Payvand News - 7/16/04 ... --

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