Revealed: how photographer died after Iran prison beating
By Angeli Mehta
Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photographer killed in Iran last summer, died after she was brutally beaten in a Teheran jail and later denied basic medical treatment that could have saved her life.
Fresh evidence has emerged about her death, which has soured relations between Iran and Canada after Teheran's authorities attempted a cover-up, claiming she had suffered a stroke.
According to a witness who has only recently come forward, the photographer was still conscious when she was taken to hospital by prison guards after undergoing hours of interrogation at the notorious Evin prison.
The guards remained with Ms Kazemi while she was seen by doctors, who ordered brain scans several times. However, no scan was done for 12 hours, by which time Ms Kazemi was in a coma.
According to the BBC's This World programme, the witness said the scan showed that Ms Kazemi's head "had been hit very hard, causing severe brain damage and bleeding".
In a situation like that, the witness said, "every second is vital". Iran's health minister, Masoud Pezeshkian, has admitted that had she been treated promptly, Ms Kazemi might be alive today.
Her death - and Iran's subsequent attempts at a cover-up - escalated the battle still raging between the country's unelected hardline religious leaders, who believe in the absolute authority of Ayatollah Khamanei, and reformist politicians such as the president, Mohammed Khatami.
Ms Kazemi was born in southern Iran in 1949 but left during the Shah's rule, though her mother stayed on. Last summer, her first visit for 30 years, she was granted a work permit but was arrested after photographing families holding a vigil for people detained during a crackdown on demonstrations against the regime.
Drawing on official reports, and information from eyewitnesses and other people familiar with the case, This World pieced together what happened next.
When Ms Kazemi was first challenged, she was told to leave her camera and collect it the following day. She refused, ripping out the film to expose the frames. Her defiance ensured she was kept in prison.
"She was confronted by the authorities and asked to give the camera and the film," said Hamid Mojtahedi, a Canadian human rights lawyer with access to officials involved in Ms Kazemi's case. "She resisted."
Inside Evin, she was interrogated for nearly four hours by officials from the Judiciary, a hardline bastion, and accused of being a spy. Teheran's general prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, who is notorious for jailing journalists, was there - "I poked my head in to see how things were going," he told Mr Mojtahedi.
On June 25, she was again interrogated for four hours by the hardliners, and later that evening was sent to a rival authority in the Evin jail, the intelligence ministry, which comes under the control of the reformists. On the fourth day, she fell ill. After a routine medical examination at 4.30pm, the doctor reported nothing amiss.
An hour later, Ms Kazemi complained of feeling faint, and by 8.40pm was bleeding from the nose and coughing up blood. Just after midnight she was admitted to hospital with medical papers that said she was suffering from "intestinal problems".
The eyewitness said she could respond to questions by blinking but appeared to be in shock. When her mother went to visit, she asked a nurse to pull back the sheet. "They'd beaten her up so badly her body was black and blue all over," Mrs Kazemi said. "I asked the nurse to raise her head up and as soon as she took her hand away, her head fell back lifeless."
An official who later saw the hospital report said it raised the possibility that the fatal blow had been struck several days before Ms Kazemi eventually collapsed.
Fourteen days later, she was dead. Her life-support machine was switched off at the hospital without any consultation of her mother or her son, Stephan. The official verdict - an announcement allegedly ordered by Mr Mortazavi - was that she had suffered a stroke, but President Khatami ordered an inquiry.
Within days, the vice-president, Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, revealed that Zahra Kazemi had died from a brain haemorrhage caused by a blow to the head. Crucially, the president's report said that the family could arrange an independent postmortem examination, which would help to establish the timing of that blow.
Mrs Kazemi and Stephan formally asked for her remains to be returned to Canada, but she was then intimidated by armed men into having Zahra buried in her birthplace of Shiraz, and all hope of an independent postmortem examination vanished. The Canadian government temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Iran in protest.
By now, however, a battle for the truth was raging between the hardliners and the reformists. A Judiciary inquiry blamed two intelligence ministry officials and one ministry interrogator, Reza Ahmadi, went on trial last October.
His indictment said that because an intelligence ministry doctor had pronounced Ms Kazemi fit an hour before she became ill, the fatal blow must have been struck by a ministry interrogator.
According to the reformists who carried out their own investigation, however, Ms Kazemi was struck during a struggle with Judiciary officials as she tried to hold on to her camera equipment when first detained. Prison guards who initially testified to this version of events later changed their story.
Brain specialists say it is possible to remain lucid for days after a severe blow to the head before the build-up of blood causes death. They suggest that it is likely that Ms Kazemi was unconscious during some of her first hours in prison.
The coroner's report remains under wraps but, under pressure from reformists, the Judiciary inquiry has been reopened. It is understood that three men, this time Judiciary officials, have been arrested.
Politically, however, Iran's reform movement is struggling for its own survival. Many of the reform MPs who have campaigned to discover the truth behind her murder are among the 2,500 candidates banned by the hardline Guardian Council from standing in parliamentary elections to be held on Friday.
Within days, there may be no one left in authority willing to fight for justice for Zahra Kazemi. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/02/15/wiran15.xml&sSheet=/portal/2004/02/15/ixportal.html
Election debate intensifies struggle for power between Iran's reformist and hardliners
15 February 2004
Channel News Asia
TEHRAN, Iran: Iran's reformist government has said it's nearing a compromise with the country's conservatives over the contested upcoming parliamentary election.
Reformists have been accusing conservatives of trying to rig the election to retake control of Parliament by disqualifying hundreds of liberal candidates.
The election debate is intensifying the struggle for power between the country's reformists and hardliners.
For Iran's reformists, today is unprecedented and tomorrow is far from certain.
These yellow folders hold the resignation letters of around 120 reformist Members of Parliament.
Said reformist MP from Tehran, Mohsen Mirdamadi: "You should understand that we may be ready to ignore many things, but we are not ready to compromise or negotiate the most inalienable right of the people, their right to vote."
They're protesting a move by the country's conservatives to bar hundreds of reformist candidates including around 80 current lawmakers from running in February's election.
A move, they say, designed to rob reformists of their dominant position in Parliament.
Mohammad Rashidian, a reformist MP from Abadan, said: "People have taken part in elections because they have had numerous and various candidates, so we should not discourage them from participating by not giving them this right."
The hardline Guardian Council has disqualified nearly 30 percent of the roughly 8,000 people who had signed up to run for the election, stating many were opposed to Islam or the constitution of the Islamic Republic.
The council has said the election will still offer plenty of opportunity for competition.
Spokesman for the Council, Ebrahim Azizi, said: "In all the countries of the world, or at least in some countries, there are some conditions and obstacles that are more difficult than ours."
But Iran's largest pro-reform party has said it will boycott the election.
Calls to postpone the election have been turned down by the Guardian Council itself.
Some reformists here say they hope people show their support for them by not turning out at the polls.
Reformist lawmaker, Meisam Saidi, said: "Since their votes are not translated into real power, I predict that voter participation will decrease in protest to this state of affairs."
But despite a 3-week sit-in held by reformists, public interest has remained largely muted.
"Any of these representatives that enter the Parliament, the first thing they do is to ratify certain laws they need to benefit themselves," said an Iranian youth.
But there are some who disagreed.
"In order for them to be able to do something for our country, we must vote for them so that they can get something accomplished," said an Iranian man.
What happens next is uncertain. The Parliament's Speaker has called on the country's political and spiritual leader to intervene.
And pressure is falling on the country's reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, who has consistently pushed for both the rule of law and stability.
A true balancing act when it comes to deciding who will fill these seats next. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/middleeast/view/71207/1/.html