Security agents detained in connection with journalist’s death

July 28, 2003, New York—Five Iranian security agents have been detained in connection with the death of Canadian-Iranian free-lance journalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in government custody on July 10 after being arrested for taking photographs outside a prison in the capital, Tehran, according to press reports and an Iranian source.

Sources cited a state radio report broadcast on Saturday, July 26, that five men whose identities have not been made public have been in police custody since Friday, July 25. The report did not specify what role they might have played in Kazemi’s death.

The detentions came on the same day that the head of the Iranian judiciary appointed Judge Jawad Ismaili to head the investigations into Kazemi’s death.

Kazemi was buried on Wednesday, July 23, in Shiraz, in southern Iran. However, the journalist’s son, who lives in Canada, as well as the Canadian government, had requested that her body be returned to Canada for burial. In response to Kazemi’s burial, Canada recalled its ambassador from Tehran.

Kazemi, a contributor to Recto Verso, a Montreal-based magazine, and the London-based photo agency Camera Press, was detained on June 23 while taking photographs outside Tehran’s Evin Prison. She was taken to Baghiatollah Hospital after being held in government custody nearly two weeks. Earlier press accounts had stated she died on July 11, the day that officials announced her death, but the ministers’ July 20 report said she died on July 10.

“Almost each day, new evidence emerges suggesting that Kazemi’s death was no accident,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “If Kazemi was indeed murdered, the guilty party or parties must be brought to justice swiftly.”

Differing explanations
On July 20, a group of ministers that Iranian president Mohamed Khatami had commissioned to investigate Kazemi’s death issued a report stating that Kazemi had “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.

On July 16, Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters that Kazemi died from a “brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings,” while Iranian foreign minister Kamel Kharazzi told Canada’s Foreign Minister Bill Graham that same day that Kazemi’s death might have been an accident. [For more information about Kazemi’s death and the Iranian government’s reaction, read the July 21 news alert.]