Iranian Prosecutor Named to Investigate Canadian Journalist's Death

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The prosecutor accused by reformers of responsibility for the death in custody of a Canadian-Iranian journalist (search) has been appointed to investigate what happened to her after she was detained while covering anti-government protests.

Tehran (search) prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi (search) was named to head the investigation into the death of Zahra Kazemi, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (search) reported Tuesday.

Mortazavi controls the prosecutors and police who interrogated Kazemi for 77 hours before she was taken to a hospital emergency room, where she died on July 10.

Mortazavi is also widely believed to have pushed for Kazemi's quick burial. Presidential investigators stepped in last week to prevent the burial, and the vice president said she had died of a beating, not a stroke as originally claimed.

Late Tuesday, the state-run news agency IRNA said it had received a letter from Kazemi's mother, who lives in Iran, saying she wanted her daughter buried in her hometown of Shiraz "in order to prevent any misuse of the tragic incident."

Kazemi's only child Stephan Hachemi, who lives in Montreal, wants her body sent to Canada for an independent autopsy and for burial. He said earlier his grandmother told him she was being pressured by Iranian officials into agreeing that the body be buried in Iran.

The death has become one more bitter dispute between hard-liners and reformists struggling for power in Iran. Reformers have called for the ouster and prosecution of Mortazavi and other hard-liners they hold responsible for her death.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the hard-line head of Iran's judiciary, named Mortazavi to head the investigation. A day earlier, a committee appointed by reformist President Mohammad Khatami had called for an independent inquiry into the 54-year-old photojournalist's death.

"Public opinion expected that an independent judge will head the investigation, not a man who is seen as the main suspect in the case," reformist lawmaker Mohammad Kianoushrad told The Associated Press Tuesday.

Another reformist lawmaker, Reza Yousefian said: "Now, I don't expect that the whole truth will be revealed."

Kazemi died nearly three weeks after she was detained for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during last month's student-led protests.

After the interrogation, she spent 14 days in the intensive care unit of Baqiyatollah Azam Hospital before she died, the report said. The hospital is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, a hard-line security force.

The presidential committee that investigated the death said Kazemi had complained of punishment from her guards and died of a fractured skull. The report, which appeared in full in an Iranian newspaper Monday, didn't say who was behind the death.

The presidential committee's report discredited an initial official account that Kazemi died of a stroke -- an explanation many had seen as an attempt by Iran's hard-liners to absolve themselves and their security agents of responsibility.

On Sunday, prominent reformist lawmaker Mohsen Armin accused government security agents of beating Kazemi to death, echoing accusations from her family and friends. Armin said Mortazavi, the prosecutor, had ordered her detention and later forced a Culture Ministry official to announce Kazemi died of a stroke.

Before being appointed prosecutor this year, Mortazavi served as a judge and was behind the closure of over 90 pro-democracy publications, as well as the imprisonment of dozens of writers and political activists over the past three years.

Khatami asked judiciary head Shahroudi on Monday to launch a judicial inquiry and punish those responsible for Kazemi's death.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham on Monday called on the Iranian government act quickly to bring to justice those responsible for Kazemi's death.