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Slain Journalist's Lawyers Accuse Iran Judiciary of Cover-Up - 2004-07-19


Lawyers for the family of slain Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi claim the indictment against her alleged killer was flawed, and that the Iranian judiciary that ended his trial was engaged in a cover-up.

The trial of the defendant, an intelligence agent, was abruptly closed down on Sunday. An expert on Iran who lectures at the Political Science Department at Cairo University, Amal Hamada, says the case involves a conflict between hardliners and reformers in Iran.

Ms. Hamada says attorneys for the family believe another man, rather than the defendant, intelligence agent Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, was responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death, and they are pushing for his indictment.

"The person who they want to be tried is part of the hardliners' camp, and the one who is on trial now is part of the reformers' camp," said Amal Hamada. "So, it's more complicated than a murder case. It's a murder case, where one accused is part of a reformer camp, and another used to be part of the hardliners. And the hardliners of course want to avoid charging this person."

Ms. Kazemi died in custody last year from a blow to the head that fractured her skull. She had been arrested for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student protests.

The court in Tehran had met three times to argue whether secret agent Ahmadi was guilty of what was termed semi-premeditated murder.

Lawyers for the victim's family want to summon a prison official, identified as Mohammad Bakhshi, who they believe inflicted the fatal blow.

Ms. Hamada suggested the case could be reopened in the future.

"As has previously happened in cases, like against the history professor, Mr. Aghajari, the case was closed, and then reopened, and a verdict issued, and then it was reopened for the third time," she said. "So, maybe it's not the end of the story. Maybe there will be a chance to reopen the case in six, seven months. The [Iranian] supreme leader has the right to ask the Iranian judiciary to reopen a case."

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer for the Kazemi family, has said she is willing to take the case to an international court. But according to Mohamed El Said Abden Moemen, a professor of Iranian Studies at Ain Shems University, Iranian authorities will be highly unwilling to see this case escalate.

Mr. Moemen says Iranian authorities want to keep the case in the legal, not the political, arena. He says they think the Canadian government, under pressure from the United States, is trying to politicize the case and make it about human rights.

Mr. Moemen says he think it is likely that Iranian authorities will seek a settlement out of court.

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