INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY DENIES ITS STAFF KILLED ZAHRA KAZEMI

TEHRAN 26 Aug. (IPS) Iran's Information (Intelligence) Ministry on Tuesday strongly denied a report by the Judiciary that two of its interrogators had killed Ms. Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian-Iranian photojournalist murdered last July while in the custody of Iranian authorities.

The Tehran prosecutor's office, headed by Judge Sa’id Mortazavi, believed to be the real murderer of Ms. Kazemi, had announced on Monday that two interrogators from the Intelligence Ministry had been charged with "semi-intentional" killing of the 54 years-old photographer.

Iranian jurists and lawyers had denounced the decision to put the Tehran prosecutor’s office in charge of the investigations, observing that anyhow, the Prosecutor was one of the interrogators.Photo

According to the French daily "Liberation", it was Mr. Mortazavi who provoked the death by hitting Ms Kazemi’s head with his shoe, trying to make her confess to espionage, probably for the United States.

Informed Iranian sources said considering that Mr. Mortazavi is a protégé of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, the investigation committee did its best to have him cleared from the charges, putting the blame on the government instead.

According to the findings of an official investigation committee formed on orders by President Mohammad Khatami, Ms. Zahra Kazemi was killed by a blow to the head while being interrogated for taking photographs outside the notorious Evin prison in the outskirts of Tehran some two weeks before her arrest.

At first, the Iranians claimed that Ms. Kazemi died of a brain stroke, but the investigation committee, made of ministers of Interior, Intelligence, Justice and Guidance determined that the death was caused by brain haemorrhage due to a solid bloc that hat hit the head and Iran's Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said at the end of July she was probably murdered.

"The incident that led to the death of Zahra Kazemi was not at all done by the staff of the Intelligence Ministry. How the incident happened is clearly evident for this Ministry and the general public will be informed about it at the proper time", the official news agency IRNA quoted a statement from the Intelligence Ministry as saying.

The reformist newspaper "Yas No" said the Intelligence Ministry statement described the prosecutor's report, prepared by a criminal investigator, as "sheer lies".

"The claims of the investigator that the interrogators were members of the Intelligence Ministry is not realistic," the newspaper quoted the ministry as saying.

The tragic death of Ms. Kazemi clouded the normally good relations between the Islamic Republic and Canada, specially after the authorities buried the body in her original hometown of Shiraz, south of Iran, despite an official document signed by her mother for the transfer of the body to Canada for autopsy.

Ottawa recalled its ambassador from Tehran and called on the United Nations and international organisations for pressing Tehran for the return of the body.

However, after the charges were announced, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham welcomed the news as "a very positive step" but said he had not confirmed details of the charges. He said Canada would press Iran to ensure the process was transparent.

The incident has thrown a spotlight on the shadowy practices of Iran's security services and the treatment of the media in the Islamic Republic, where, on orders from the leader, Mr. Mortazavi has shut down more than a hundred newspapers and publications, most of them supporting reforms promised by Hojjatoleslam Khatami but never upheld. ENDS JOURNALIST DIES 26803