Iranian VP: Canadian Journalist Was Murdered

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An Iranian-Canadian journalist who died in police custody this month was murdered, Iran's vice president said Wednesday in the first official admission that Zahra Kazemi (search) was beaten to death.

Earlier government statements, including a report from a presidential committee, had acknowledged that the 54-year-old Kazemi died July 10 from head injuries, but suggested it could have been an accident.

"The murder was caused by brain hemorrhage due to a blow inflicted on her," Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi (search) told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

The presidential committee, while shying from calling the death intentional, had previously discredited an initial official report that Kazemi died from a stroke. The panel said she suffered a skull fracture "resulting from a hard object hitting the head or the head hitting a hard object."

Kazemi, an Iranian who lived in Montreal, died nearly three weeks after she was detained for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests. After 77 hours of interrogation, she was taken to a hospital controlled by hard-line Revolutionary Guards (search), where she died 14 days later.

A reformist legislator, Ali Shakourirad, said Wednesday that five security agents reported detained in the case last week worked for the Intelligence Ministry, which is controlled by religious hard-liners who have thwarted many liberalization efforts by reformist President Mohammad Khatami (search).

"The five detainees are from the Intelligence Ministry, but it doesn't mean that they are the only suspects or they are guilty," Shakourirad said.

Reformers have openly accused Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi of responsibility for Kazemi's death.

The case has strained relations between Canada and Iran.

Canada withdrew its ambassador after Kazemi was buried Wednesday in her birthplace, the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, against the wishes of Canadian authorities and her son, who lives in Montreal.

Kazemi's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, said in an interview published Wednesday that she had wanted her daughter buried in Canada but security agents pressured her into agreeing to a burial in Iran.

"I want the murderer ... executed," she was quoted by the Farsi-language newspaper Yas-e-Nou as saying.