TEHRAN, Iran – A Tehran court acquitted the sole defendant in the murder of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, the lawyer and Nobel Peace laureate (search) representing the victim's mother told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Shirin Ebadi (search), who is the chief lawyer for the mother of slain photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, said the legal proceedings were flawed.
"I'm required to work until my last breath to make sure that justice is done to my client," Ebadi said.
She threatened to take the matter to international organizations if the Iranian judiciary fails to carry out justice.
"I'll protest this verdict. If the appeals court and other legal stages fail to heed our objections, we will use all domestic and international facilities to meet the legal rights of my client," an angry Ebadi said.
Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died July 10, 2003, while in detention for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy.
Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke but a presidential committee later found she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage.
The agent charged with murdering Kazemi, Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi (search), pleaded innocent on July 17 and the trial was abruptly ended the next day.
Hard-liners were angered when the defense team led by Ebadi accused prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the conservative judiciary of illegally detaining her.
Ebadi, who leads a four-member legal team, accused the court of deliberately failing to carry out justice.
"If the court had summoned the people we named during the trial for explanation, it could have accurately identified the people who committed the murder," she said.
Ebadi refused to sign the bill of indictment — which implicated Ahmadi and cleared Bakhshi of any wrongdoing — and demanded that the court summon several top officials, including hard-line Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, to explain Kazemi's murder.
Ebadi said filing a case against Bakhshi still remained an option before she would turn to international organizations.
Ebadi said the court also ruled that Kazemi's blood money will be paid from public, or government, funds. Blood money is the compensation that an Islamic court orders a convicted attacker to pay to the victim or the victim's relatives. In Kazemi's case, the money has to be paid from public funds since no murderer has been identified.
The average compensation now paid to relatives of a Muslim man killed is about $18,750. The payment is about half that if the victim was Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian or a woman, regardless of her religion.
Abdolfattah Soltani, who is on Ebadi's team, said he didn't understand why the judiciary would not punish those responsible for the crime.
"Simply, I can't understand why the judiciary is trying to hide the truth and not punish those who committed the crime. It's not comprehensible why Iran should be discredited in the world for a few people who committed murder," he said.
Soltani has said Mortazavi could be a possible suspect in the case.
The Canadian government has blamed Mortazavi for the death, and reformists have accused him of a cover up.
Last week, journalists complained that Mortazavi had told them not to report on parts of the trial. Most Iranian newspapers have not published the accusations against Bakhshi and the prosecution, apparently fearing retribution.
Iran-Canada relations, soured by the slaying and subsequent burial in Iran against the wishes of Kazemi's son in Canada, further deteriorated after Iran rejected the idea of Canadian observers attending the trial. Relations were further strained when the Canadian ambassador was not allowed to attend the last session of the open trial on Sunday.