TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's government on Tuesday rejected formal charges that two Intelligence Ministry (search) agents were involved in the death of a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist.
The charge by an independently appointed judge and the denials of involvement in the death of Zahra Kazemi (search) are the latest chapter in a bitter power struggle between elected reformers and unelected hard-liners.
Reformers have accused the hard-liners of involvement in her death. The hard-liners control Iran's police force, judiciary and security agencies.
Kazemi, 54, died July 10, nearly three weeks after being detained for taking photographs outside a Tehran (search) prison during student-led protests. After 77 hours of interrogation, she was rushed to an intensive care unit in a hospital controlled by hard-line Revolutionary Guards (search), where she died 14 days later.
Kazemi's death was condemned inside and outside Iran. Canada withdrew its ambassador after Kazemi was buried in her birthplace, the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, against the wishes of Canadian authorities and her son, who lives in Montreal.
On Monday, judge Javad Esmaeili charged two Iranian intelligence agents with involvement in the "murder" of Kazemi. The names of the agents were not given.
The government, however, rejected the charge Tuesday.
"The government considers the Intelligence Ministry clean and clear of any charges," government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told reporters.
Charging intelligence ministry agents "does not correspond with facts," he said, calling for still another investigation in the case.
"We want a transparent, open, impartial and legal investigation at the presence of lawyers. Such conditions have not so far been met. That's why the Intelligence Ministry doesn't accept the charges," Ramezanzadeh said.
When Canada withdrew its ambassador, Khatami ordered an independent jury to investigate. The hard-line judiciary appointed veteran judge Esmaeili to head the probe.
Last month, a presidential committee shied away from calling the death intentional, but discredited an initial official report that Kazemi had died from a stroke. The committee said she suffered a skull fracture.
Officials had tried to bury Kazemi quietly, saying she died of a stroke, but were stopped by presidential investigators.
Reformers have openly accused Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, a hard-liner, of seeking to distort facts by at first trying to announce the cause of the death as stroke and then seeking a quiet and quick burial.