Iran Rejects Charges in Canadian Journalist's Death

Published September 01, 2003

| Associated Press

Tehran (search) prosecutors on Monday rejected charges issued last month against two Intelligence Ministry (search) agents in the slaying of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist.

An independent judge had charged the agents with complicity in Zahra Kazemi (search)'s "semi-premeditated murder." The 54-year-old photographer died July 10 after sustaining head injuries while in custody.

Kazemi's death came nearly three weeks after she was detained for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests. Following 77 hours of interrogation, she was rushed to a hospital's intensive care unit, where she died 14 days later.

In a statement Monday, Tehran's deputy prosecutor general, Jafar Reshadati, returned the indictments issued Aug. 25 against the agents and called for "further investigations" into the charges.

The decision effectively means that no one is currently charged in Kazemi's death. The independent judge, Javad Esmaeili, will be expected to reinvestigate the circumstances surrounding the crime.

Esmaeili was not immediately available for comment.

Isabelle Savard, spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, said Canada has received no details about the rejection of the charges, but said the government would "continue to put pressure on Iran."

Canada has complained to Iran over the earlier handling of the Kazemi case. It also threatened sanctions and withdrew its ambassador after the photojournalist's body was buried in her birthplace, the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, against the wishes of Canadian authorities and her son, who lives in Montreal.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry has criticized the accusations that the agents, both interrogators, were involved in Kazemi's death as "sheer lies." The Ministry also accused a judiciary agent of beating Kazemi to death.

Such charges and countercharges have characterized Iran's probe into the photographer's death, the latest battleground in the power struggle between elected reformers and the hard-liners who control Iran's police force, judiciary and security agencies.

Initially, the hard-line Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, was quoted as saying Kazemi that had died of a stroke.

But a presidential-appointed committee discredited this version and found that she had died of head injuries sustained while in custody.

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Monday the Intelligence Ministry had provided Reshadati with "evidence" proving the two agents were innocent but complained that Esmaeili had ignored it.

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