Iranian official tells of coercion
By JEFF SALLOT and ROBERT MATAS
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Ottawa and Vancouver A senior Iranian official says he was threatened with prosecution if he did not participate in a cover-up of the beating death in custody of Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.
The official said yesterday he was coerced into falsely stating that she died of a stroke this month when in fact her skull was fractured by a violent blow sometime after her arrest in Tehran.
The official, Mohammad Hussein Khoshvaqt, said a prosecutor accused Ms. Kazemi of being a spy, and warned him he could be arrested for assisting a spy because he was the official who issued her press credentials.
In a letter to the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mr. Khoshvaqt said state prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi dictated a statement to the effect that Ms. Kazemi, 54, had died of a stroke. "Then he got it typed on a paper with a Culture Ministry emblem, got me to sign it and sent it to IRNA [the official Islamic Republic News Agency]."
Mr. Mortazavi is implicated in the harsh interrogation of Ms. Kazemi.
In a second development, Iranian authorities tried to draw a parallel between Ms. Kazemi's death in custody and the fatal shooting by a Port Moody, B.C., police officer of a machete-wielding B.C. youth of Iranian origin.
Mr. Khoshvaqt, a senior official in the Iranian Culture Ministry, which deals with journalists, said he was held against his will and allowed to leave the prosecutor's office only after IRNA published the false story.
Mr. Khoshvaqt's letter was reprinted yesterday in the reformist newspaper Yas-e-Nou and posted to the paper's Web site.
Another official in the Culture Ministry told The Associated Press that the letter is authentic.
Mr. Mortazavi is notorious for his crackdown on independent journalists and intellectuals who are critical of hard-line clerics.
He was identified in a report by a special Iranian cabinet committee as one of the officials who interrogated Ms. Kazemi in the days after her arrest last month. Some dissident exile groups said Mr. Mortazavi may have struck the blow that fractured the journalist's skull.
He is also the official who pressed for Ms. Kazemi's burial in Iran after her death on July 10, over the objections of the Canadian government and her son. Canada has withdrawn its ambassador in protest and is considering trade and other sanctions.
Ms. Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, wanted the body returned to Canada for an independent autopsy. Ms. Kazemi held Canadian and Iranian citizenship. Iran did not recognize her Canadian citizenship.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi accused Canadian police of killing an Iranian youth in Port Moody, B.C., and Canadian news media of censoring the story.
Echoing the words used by Canadian officials in the Kazemi case, Mr. Asefi said Iran "will urge the Canadian government, through diplomatic channels, to deliver a prompt, transparent and satisfying explanation of the horrifying crime."
Mr. Asefi was referring to the widely reported shooting of Keyvan Tabesh, 18, on July 14 in the climax to an apparent road-rage incident. He was shot by a plainclothes police officer.
Port Moody police said Mr. Tabesh, carrying a machete, ran toward the officer. However, Mr. Tabesh's family questions whether Mr. Tabesh knew that it was a police officer pointing a gun at him.
The case is under investigation.
There is no legitimate comparison between the Port Moody case and Ms. Kazemi's death in custody, said Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
But Mr. Asefi said in Tehran: "The crime perpetrated by Canadian police . . . has caused fear and horror among the Iranian community in Canada."
Sharam Golestaneh, president of the Ottawa-based exile group Committee for Defence of Human Rights in Iran said, "That is absolutely not true. There is no parallel between the way the police operate in a democracy like Canada and the dictatorship in Iran."
The suggestion of a political motive for the shooting caught police in Port Moody by surprise.
"It's amazing how politics works," Constable Brian Soles of the Port Moody Police Department said yesterday in an interview.
The incident and the investigation are "free from any political interference," he said.
"Politics is not part of this. . . . No one has phoned us to speed up our investigation or told us to do anything."
Port Moody Police have announced an investigation into the shooting and an internal review into the force's handling of the incident. No date has been set for the completion of the two investigations, Constable Soles said.
Liana Wright of the B.C. Coroner's Services said the coroner will decide whether to hold an inquest after the criminal investigation is completed. The autopsy report would not be available to the public until after the police complete their work, she said.
Rita Tabesh said her family was shocked to learn his case had been raised by the Iranian government.
"We were surprised," she said, speaking from the family's Burnaby home. "We never talk to the government."
When she learned her brother's death was being reported in Iran, she phoned her husband, who is visiting relatives in Iran, to ask him to call TV stations there and tell them to stop broadcasting the story.
"We don't want the government to use our family," she said, adding the family simply wants to know why her brother died.
With reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030725.ukaze0725/BNStory/National/
Iran says it still holds 100 Al Qaida members
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Iran has announced that it is still holding a large number of Al Qaida members.
Iranian officials have confirmed that senior Al Qaida agents are among the detainees. They said at least 100 Al Qaida members remain in custody.
"Since the collapse of the Taliban regime we have arrested a large number of them," Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said on Wednesday.
Last year, Iran was said to have detained 500 Al Qaida members who fled from Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002, Middle East Newsline reported. Most of the Al Qaida members were said to have been released.
"Many of them have been expelled and a large number of them are in our custody a mixture of big and small members. I said big and small members."
Yunesi did not elaborate. He did not identify any of the Al Qaida detainees and refused to provide a figure for those being held by Iran.
"Wherever we learn of some clues about people connected to Al Qaida, we launch intelligence operations and arrest them," Yunesi told a news conference. "We are ready to hand over those Al Qaida members with whose countries we have friendly ties."
Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mussavi Lari was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying that Teheran plans to soon extradite Al Qaida members. Lari said some of the Al Qaida agents would be sent to countries that have signed agreements with Iran. He said others would be placed on trial.
Earlier, Western diplomatic sources said Iran has been holding such Al Qaida leaders as the son of Osama Bin Laden, the No. 2 member of the movement, Ayman Zawahiri, and operations chief Seif Al Adel.
The sources also said Abu Musab Zarqawi and training chief Abu Mohammed Al Masri have been captured over the last few months.
Iran has acknowledged that it is holding Al Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith, a Kuwaiti native. But Kuwait has rejected Iran's extradition of Abu Gheith to the sheikdom.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have also discussed the extradition of Al Qaida insurgents to the kingdom. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an accord that would allow for the extradition of suspects.
The United States has tried to obtain Iranian agreement for the extradition of at least two Al Qaida insurgents, Al Adel and Al Masri, both connected to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Egypt is said to have relayed a request for the extradition of Zawahiri, head of the Jihad insurgency group.
"I think it is significant that they have now acknowledged rather publicly the presence and detention of Al Qaida members," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington. "We are not in receipt of those names." http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/front_3.html