New York, July 19, 2004—The trial of an intelligence agent accused of killing Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi in July 2003 was suddenly brought to a close on Sunday, July 18, amid accusations from Kazemi’s legal team of misconduct.
An Iranian court abruptly ended the trial of Agent Mohamed Reza Aqdam just one day after it began. Aqdam is accused of the “semi-intentional murder” of Kazemi, who died while in official custody last year after she was picked up photographing outside Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Kazemi’s lawyers, led by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, accused the court of refusing to hear witness testimony and consider evidence implicating another prison official of delivering the fatal blow that killed Kazemi. Foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from attending Sunday’s hearing, and Canada withdrew its ambassador in protest of what it called “a flagrant denial of justice.”
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have attempted to restrict coverage of the trial. A journalist quoted by The Associated Press (AP) said her newspaper received a call from Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who ordered the paper to delete information about the attempt by Kazemi’s lawyers to implicate the other prison official in the journalist’s death. According to the AP, most “Iranian newspapers have not published the accusations…apparently fearing retribution.”
On Saturday, two Iranian dailies, Vaghayeh Etefaghieh and Jomhuriat, ceased publication. Agence-France Presse reported that one “newspaper was suspended for ‘insulting officials’ and another [was] shut down for three weeks by its publisher after he was summoned by prosecutors.” The AP reported that at least one of the newspapers had published an article about Kazemi that angered authorities. According to CPJ sources in Tehran, the judiciary also closed the monthly Aftab last week. Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, spokesman for the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press, the paper was shuttered in connection with reporting about Kazemi’s case.
“We are dismayed by the court’s actions, which display utter contempt for justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.
Kazemi, a contributor to the Montreal-based magazine Recto Verso and the London-based photo agency Camera Press, was detained on June 23, 2003, while taking photographs outside Tehran’s Evin Prison. She was taken to Baghiatollah Hospital after being held in government custody for nearly two weeks and died on July 10.
For days following Kazemi’s death, some Iranian officials maintained that the journalist died of a stroke. But on July 16, 2003, Vice President Mohammed Ali Abtahi announced that the cause of death was a “brain hemorrhage resulting from beatings.” A government inquiry released in late July 2003 concluded that Kazemi had died as a result of a skull fracture likely caused by a blow to her head.