By Vahid Sepehri
July 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An
Iranian judiciary official recently admitted to some procedural flaws with
investigations into the 2003 death in custody of the Iranian-Canadian
photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. But those comments and a recent Supreme Court
hearing complaints from Kazemi family lawyers indicate that the case is unlikely
to be reopened.
Kazemi died in July 2003 -- perhaps as a
result of a vigorous interrogation that included beatings in Tehran's Evin
prison -- while in the custody of Intelligence Ministry and judiciary
Her detention and interrogation are believed to have been
supervised by Tehran's chief prosecutor, Said Mortazavi. She had been arrested
for taking pictures of protesters outside the prison.
The judiciary later
acquitted one Intelligence Ministry agent charged with involvement in her death,
but this has proved neither satisfactory to Tehran's chief prosecutor's office
-- which insists the agent should have been convicted -- or the Kazemi family
lawyers, who believe he was a scapegoat and that others, perhaps including
Mortazavi, should have been questioned in court.
Lawyers have objected
to several aspects of the case. First, they say the judiciary should have been
prosecuting a murder case, not Kazemi's "unintentional" killing during
interrogation. They add that more people should have been summoned to court, as
many people were likely involved in her detention, interrogation, or medical
examination inside and outside prison.
'Silence Accomplice To
Rights groups have seconded lawyers' demands for a full
reexamination of her case. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on
July 10 that the case should be fully reexamined if there is any hope of finding
the true culprits in her death, Radio Farda reported.
RSF's Reza Moini
told Radio Farda on July 10 that the case should continue to receive publicity,
as "silence is an accomplice of impunity" in Iran.
Moini rejected the
Iranian government's insistence that there should be no mention of "murder" in
relation with the incident. He said that "as [Abdolfattah] Soltani and [other
attorneys] have said, this case must start over again. Investigations were not
complete and there were many flaws. Injustice has been done to certain people in
this case, and claims that this was an unintentional or quasi-intentional
killing is basically not the case. This was a murder."
Iran's judiciary disagrees, as indicated by the recent comments
of a representative of the Iranian prosecutor-general who attended a July 1-2
session to hear the lawyers' complaints. The session was attended by four
lawyers representing the Kazemi party, the attorney of the Intelligence Ministry
agent acquitted in earlier trials, the Tehran chief prosecutor's representative,
and the prosecutor-general's representative, Yadollah Alizadeh, the daily
"Aftab-i Yazd" reported on July 15.
The Kazemi lawyers argued that the
Tehran Chief Prosecutor's Office should have investigated a murder. Kazemi, they
said, was killed by an "intentional" blow to the head, the daily reported. But,
they added, it decided to investigate an "unintentional killing," which
determined the course of subsequent proceedings and choice of courts dealing
with the case. Instead of the Tehran provincial penal court, the case was sent
to a public court the lawyers say was not competent to deal with this case.
Alizadeh's response to the objections indicated that the judiciary
admits a procedural flaw, but seems disinclined to reopen the case. He said the
lawyers can claim that murder was committed, but only the investigating judge
can legally define the offense to be investigated.
Alizadeh said the
Tehran Chief Prosecutor's Office had determined the offense to be an
unintentional killing, for which it issued an indictment that led to the case's
prosecution in the Tehran public and revolutionary courts.
admitted the Prosecutor's Office should have first informed the various parties
of its findings on the nature of the offense, before proceeding with subsequent
stages. He rejected, however, the legal validity of claims by the Kazemi lawyers
that she had been tortured. Even if she had, he said, these claims are not
legally valid in a court. Hitting someone on the head, Alizadeh said, does not
equate with international definitions of torture.
Alizadeh concluded that
the Supreme Court should address the procedural flaw -- the Prosecutor's Office
failure to issue a formal statement after its findings on the nature of the
offense -- but he effectively rejected the objections of lawyers that the wrong
offense had been investigated and the wrong court had investigated the
Alizadeh said he regretted Kazemi's
death, but stated she was an Iranian when in Iran and subject to Iranian laws,
and he rejected the interference of rights bodies in the case. The Tehran
prosecutor's attorney, however, rejected the acquittal of the Intelligence
Ministry agent, insisting he should be convicted of manslaughter.
Alizadeh's comments were made not long before those of another Iranian
official, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Tehran-based Iran Human
Rights Headquarters, who spoke in support of the recent stoning of a man
convicted of adultery.
The comments by the two officials display an
admission of procedural flaws coupled with a complete rejection of any criticism
of the way Iran exercises its laws, the nature of those laws, and the treatment
Iranian citizens -- or even foreigners or former Iranians -- receive under
Iran's justice system.
There is also a rejection, by the refusal to
mention it, of the possibility that some cases are not ordinary but considered
political -- relating to the state -- and thus far too inconvenient if
The most inconvenient aspect of this case for
the government, it seems, are the comments or claims by some domestic and
foreign observers on the possible involvement of Tehran's chief prosecutor in a
While Alizadeh's comments show the usual proficiency of
Iranian officials in citing laws and engaging in argument, they fail to answer
some basic questions about the case, namely, why has the judiciary not sought to
question all those who are conceivably involved with or likely have information
about Kazemi's death? On a more basic level, someone died while in the custody
of the Iranian government and those responsible for the death have not been
found. What does Iran's judiciary intend to do about