22 July 2003
RSF says official inquiry into photojournalist's death unsatisfactory, another journalist arrested
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has dismissed the findings of an official Iranian inquiry into the death in custody of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian of Iranian origin, as totally unsatisfactory. It also reiterated its call for an independent investigation into her death after she was detained in Tehran on 23 June 2003.
The organisation said the report released on 20 July did nothing to establish who was responsible for Kazemi's death. It did not say if the blow to the head that led to her death occurred when she was struck with a blunt object or if she hit an object when she fell. The report said only that the blow occurred no more than 36 hours before her hospitalisation at midnight (local time) on 27 June. According to the sequence of events established by the inquiry, this could have been when she was in the custody of Tehran State Prosecutor Said Mortazavi's office or in the custody of the Intelligence Ministry.
RSF said it was shocked to learn that doctors at Baghiatollah hospital had established that Kazemi was "brain dead" on 27 June. The report does not say why the doctors waited until 10 July, the day after the anniversary of the July 1999 student demonstrations, to report her death. The organisation called for light to be shed on every aspect of this case and for those who killed Kazemi, as well as those who may have instigated her murder, to be identified and punished, no matter how high their positions.
RSF has already asked the authorities in Tehran to allow an autopsy on Kazemi's body to be carried out in Canada by independent forensic doctors, as requested from the outset by her son, Stephan Hachemi, who lives in Canada. Her parents in Iran now also support this demand. The organisation also believes that the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, whose visit to Tehran has just been cancelled by the Iranian authorities, should be allowed to travel to Iran as soon as possible.
At the same time, RSF urged the Canadian authorities to support these demands and not give in to pressure from the Iranian authorities. The organisation has supported Hachemi's initiatives by providing him with the help of an Iranian lawyer who lives in Tehran, Namat Ahmadi.
The lack of information about Kazemi's death has now been compounded by disturbing and contradictory information about her burial. The authorities have said they were refraining from burying Kazemi while awaiting the inquiry's results. However, Iran's ambassador to Paris, Seyed Sadegh Kharazi, told an RSF delegation that she was buried on 13 or 14 July at the request of her parents, who still live in Iran. It has not, however, been possible to establish exactly where she was buried.
Kazemi was arrested on 23 June while taking photographs of Evin prison north of Tehran. On 27 June, she was handed over in critical condition to officials from the Intelligence Ministry. The authorities then informed her family that she was in a coma at Baghiatollah military hospital in Tehran, which is run by Revolutionary Guards. Following her arrest, police searched her family's home, confiscating camera equipment and a large amount of money.
Twenty-one journalists are currently in prison in Iran, which makes it the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. Thirteen of them were arrested in the past 40 days. They include Abolgasem Golbaf, of the monthly "Gozaresh", who was detained on 20 July for "disseminating false information".
As far as RSF has been able to establish, 15 of the imprisoned journalists are currently being held by Revolutionary Guards in the same place where Kazemi was interrogated. The organisation is very concerned about their fate, especially as their relatives stated, in a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, that they have experienced physical and psychological torture.