Iran's Supreme Court Orders New Probe Into Death of Iranian-Canadian Photo Journalist

Iran's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a new investigation into the 2003 death of a jailed Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who a judiciary had determined died from an accidental fall despite earlier findings that she was beaten to death while in custody.

Iran's judiciary said the Supreme Court decided that initial court that ruled in freelance photojournalist Zahra Kazemi's death was not qualified to investigate.

"Judges at the Supreme Court have objected to the court investigating the case, saying it was not competent to investigate the case," Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters Tuesday, referring to the initial court that ruled in the case.

Lawyers for Kazemi's family said they were hopeful a new investigation could lead to new charges in the case.

"This is a decision is in the right direction. Now, we want a full, free and fair reinvestigation into the deliberate murder of Kazemi," Mohammad Seifzadeh, a lawyer representing Kazemi's mother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Kazemi, a Canadian journalist of Iranian origin, died on July 11, 2003 after being arrested days earlier while taking photographs outside Tehran's Evin prison.

She was never formally charged with any crime, but Iran does not allow photographs of its prisons and is especially sensitive about Evin prison, which is known to hold political prisoners. Human rights also have accused Iran of committing abuses against prisoners at Evin — a charge the government denies.

Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke, but a committee appointed by then President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, found that she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage caused by a "physical attack".

But the more conservative judiciary later rejected the presidential finding and claimed that Kazemi died in custody from an accidental fall after her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike, a sharp shift in position on a case that has strained relations between Iran and Canada.

Before the judiciary found that she died from an accidental fall, prosecutors charged a secret agent, who interrogated Kazemi while she was in custody, with her death. In 2004, a court acquitted the secret agent, and in 2005, an appeals court upheld that ruling.

Lawyers representing Kazemi's relatives have repeatedly said they did not believe the secret agent was guilty and have accused prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the judiciary of illegally detaining her. The judiciary cleared Bakhshi of any wrongdoing.

Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the chief lawyer for the victim's mother, also rejected the court's rulings as flawed and threatened to take the matter to international organizations if other legal stages failed to carry out justice.

Canada recalled its ambassador in 2003 to protest how Iran was dealing with the case and has blamed Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for Kazemi's death.

Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a cover-up because he was the one who reported that Kazemi died of a stroke.

The case was appealed to Iran's Supreme Court earlier this year.

Seifzadeh said his team will exhaust all legal options in Iran in the hope of justice and will take the matter to international human rights organizations if justice is not carried out.

"We will pursue our complaint to the end. The judiciary has to respond to our demand and prosecute the one who committed this crime and works in the judiciary," he said.