TEHRAN, Iran – Lawyers for the mother of a slain Iranian-Canadian photojournalist on Saturday blamed a hard-line judiciary official for the murder of Zahra Kazemi (search) while in detention — not the intelligence agent standing trial for the crime.
Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi (search), the agent and only person implicated in the killing, pleaded innocent during a trial session attended by Canadian and Dutch ambassador.
"Anywhere, anytime, I will declare that I strongly reject the charges against me," Ahmadi told the court.
Several Intelligence Ministry agents accompanied him to the trial, expected to wrap up Sunday. His lawyer, Qasem Shabani, said they were protecting him against any attacks. If convicted, Ahmadi could be sentenced to life in prison.
Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died July 10, 2003, while in detention. She was held for taking photographs outside a Tehran (search) prison during student-led protests against the ruling Islamic establishment.
Iranian authorities initially denied Kazemi had died under unnatural circumstances, saying she had a stroke.
Later, a committee appointed by President Mohammad Khatami found that Kazemi had died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who led the four-member legal team, accused Iran's hard-line judiciary of illegally detaining and torturing Kazemi.
She said Mohammad Bakhshi, a judiciary official, carried out a fatal blow to Kazemi's head, and she urged the court to invite several top officials, including hard-line Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, to explain Kazemi's death.
The Canadian government has blamed Mortazavi for the death, and reformists have accused him of trying to cover up facts surrounding it.
Bakhshi has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The indictment against Ahmadi was prepared by the office of the Tehran Prosecutor.
Under Iranian law, lawyers can accuse someone already cleared of a crime.
The victim's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, wept and demanded justice during the trial.
"I was forced to consent to quick burial" in Iran, she said, wiping away tears. "Her breast had been burned, her hand and foot had been broken. I saw it myself."
Judge Hossein Shahrabi Farahani said the state forensic department has not confirmed signs of torture on Kazemi's body.
But lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah disagreed with Farahani, saying hospital doctors confirmed signs of torture.
Canadian ambassador Philip Mackinnon attended the trial. Netherlands ambassador to Iran, Hein de Vries, was also in court as the representative of the European Union. The Netherlands currently heads the rotating EU presidency.
The killing damaged Iranian-Canadian ties and led to a round of finger-pointing between hard-liners and reformers within Iran's ruling Islamic establishment.
Ebadi said Kazemi had been accused of spying and endangering Iran's national security, but there was no evidence in the indictment to prove the charges.