The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply alarmed by the death of Canadian-Iranian free-lance photographer Zahra Kazemi. Although you have ordered several government ministries to officially investigate her death, we demand that an immediate, independent inquiry be conducted—including an autopsy—and that the results be made public.
According to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Kazemi, 54, died on Friday, July 11, at Baghiatollah Hospital in Iran's capital, Tehran, where she had been transferred after being held in government custody.
Mohammad Hoseyn Khoshvaqt, director general of the Foreign Press and Media Department at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, told IRNA that Iranian authorities detained Kazemi, a contributor to Montreal-based magazine Recto Verso and London-based photo agency Camera Press, in late June outside Tehran's Evin Prison while she was taking photos at the facility.
According to IRNA Khoshvaqt said that Kazemi died of a "brain stroke." He said that the journalist, who had received permission from the ministry to work in Iran as a representative of Camera Press, had complained of poor health while she was detained and was taken to the hospital.
Kazemi's family and friends have questioned the government's account and have alleged that the journalist died as a result of mistreatment while in government custody.
Reynald Dioron, a spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, told CPJ last week that Kazemi had suffered some kind of brain hemorrhage. Canadian embassy officials in Tehran visited the journalist at the hospital on Thursday, July 10. The officials, who received a report on her condition but could not release any details, reported that she appeared to be in coma at the time of their visit, said Dioron.
While the circumstances surrounding Kazemi's arrest and her untimely death are unclear, she died after being in government custody, and Your Excellency has rightly pointed out the Iranian government should find out who is responsible for this extremely disturbing development.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ demands that the investigation be impartial, exhaustive, and public. The first step in any serious inquiry must be an independent autopsy to determine the cause of death. If culpability is established, we urge you to bring those responsible for any wrongdoing to justice.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.
Ann K. Cooper