Minister’s group releases report on journalist’s death

New York, July 21, 2003—Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who died in Iranian government custody two weeks ago, died as a result of a skull fracture, according to an Iranian government inquiry into her death.

The official Iranian new agency IRNA reported yesterday that the inquiry, commissioned earlier this month by Iranian president Mohamed Khatami, concluded that Kazemi “died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a break in her skull.”

The Associated Press quoted the report as saying that the skull fracture may have been caused by “a hard object hitting the head, or the head hitting a hard object.” The report did not conclude how the fatal injury was sustained but recommended that an independent judge pursue the investigation further and identify those responsible for Kazemi’s death.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Iranian government failed to answer the central question of how Zahra Kazemi died in official custody,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urgently call on officials to provide a full and public accounting of what took place during her detention.”

Kazemi, 54, died on July 11 at Baghiatollah Hospital in Iran’s capital, Tehran, where she had been transferred after being held in government custody. Last week, Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi announced that Kazemi died from a “brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings,” but Foreign Ministry Kamal Kharrazi later backed away from the statement, saying the journalist may have died from an accident.

According to Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, Mohammad Hoseyn Khoshvaqt, director-general of the Foreign Press and Media Department at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, said 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. At the time, Khoshvaqt said that Kazemi had died of a “brain stroke,” and that she had complained of poor health while she was detained and was taken to the hospital.