TEHRAN, (IPS) The trial of Mr. Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi, a 43 years-old agent of the Intelligence Ministry the Judiciary says is suspected of the murder of Ms. Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer started Saturday in Tehran.
Despite speculations that the trial would be held behind closed doors, Canadian Ambassador to Tehran, Mr. Philip MacKinnon his colleague from the Netherlands representing the European Union and another diplomat from Britain, as well as several Iranian and foreign journalists attended the trial, according to the semi-independent students news agency ISNA.
Lawyer Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Peace Prize winner and a team of prominent colleagues representing the family of the victim were also present at the hearing and objected to the competence of the court for such a trial.
Tehran, feeling the pinches of international pressures, reversed its stand at the last minute
Initially, the Iranians had rejected a demand from Canada to have observers at the trial, stating that the hearing was a domestic affair. “The presence of foreign observers at a trial that concerns Iranian citizens is against all international laws”, Mr. Hamid Reza Asefi, the senior Spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry had told journalists, triggering a new raw in Tehran-Canada already stormy relations.
To protest Iranian decision not to allow Canadian observers to the trial, Mr. Bill Graham, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, “outraged” at the Iranian move, had recalled the Canadian Ambassador from Tehran and warned that he might consider sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
However, Tehran, feeling the pinches of international pressures, reversed its stand at the last minute, making the hearing public and allowing foreign diplomats and journalist to assist at the proceedings.
Mr. Ahmadi, accused of "semi-intentional murder", pleaded not guilty and his lawyer demanded the trial be put off for at least one month allowing him to study the charges.
Next to Ms. Kazemi, the Intelligence Ministry is another victim of this affair
“Next to Ms. Kazemi, the Intelligence Ministry is another victim of this affair”, Mr. Ahmadi told the court, adding that during the 21 years of service, he had never slapped anyone, let alone a woman.
The 54-year-old photographer was arrested on 23 June on orders from Judge Sa’id Mortazavi, the Tehran Prosecutor and Islamic Revolution Tribunal on charges of spying as she was taking pictures of families of political prisoners demonstrating outside the Evin Prison, -- a restricted area where taking pictures is prohibited – and was interrogated for three days by agents from the Police, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Intelligence Ministry.
It was during one of the interrogations that she fell unconscious and taken to a military hospital for treating what the authorities said at first was a brain stroke.
But after she was seen in coma, with her head, face and body covered with bruises, President Mohammad Khatami ordered an independent investigation that determined she had been beaten on the head before being transferred to hospital.
Iran refused a request from Ms. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hashemi to transfer the body to Montreal for autopsy.
According to the official report, Ms. Kazemi had received a blow on her head with “a heavy object, or her head touched a heavy object”.
While several Iranian reformist lawmakers from the outgoing Majles, or the Iranian Parliament as well as Iranian and foreign press blamed Mr. Mortazavi or his men for the murder, the Judiciary accused Intelligence Ministry’s agents for the fatal beating.
Mohsen Armin, a prominent member of the last Majles said Mr. Mortazavi’s order to arrest Ms. Kazemi and charging her with espionage was “absolutely illegal” and “outside his competence”.
But according to other and more independent investigations, the photographer was badly beaten up by a prison official working closely with Mr. Mortazavi immediately after being brought into the ward.
She died in hospital on July 10, 2003 from brain haemorrhage, according to the official report.
The killing created outrage in Iran and outside, demanding the real culprits be arrested and brought to trial. It also clouded the normally good relations between Tehran and Ottawa that had recalled its ambassador from Iran.
Iran refused a request from Ms. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hashemi, her mother and the Canadian authorities to transfer the body to Montreal for autopsy and hastily buried the corpse in her native town of Shiraz, despite the mother’s claims that she was pressured into not sending the body back to Canada.
The first hearing of Mr. Ahmadi took place last October, when the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges and the Intelligence Ministry and reformist government claimed its agent was not the real culprit.
The charges against the agent entail up to three years in jail and the payment of blood money to the family of the victim.
A lawyer for the Prosecutor reiterated the accusations against Mr. Ahmadi and observed that according to the official presidential report, Ms. Kazemi was in “perfect health” until her transfer to the section under the control of the Intelligence Ministry in Evin prison.
But Mrs. Ezzat Kazemi, the old mother of the victim said when she first saw her daughter in hospital; she was covered with blood, bruises and one arm broken. “The only thing I want is to know who killed my only child, my dear daughter. I want justice for her”, she said in a choked voice and weeping.
For her part, Mrs. Ebadi explained that both the arrest of the photographer and her transfer to Evin prison were illegal, since she had necessary press credentials and was doing her professional job.
She also confirmed that a prison guard gave the first blow to Ms. Kazemi’s face, resulting in brain haemorrhage.
Amid a vigorous exchange between lawyers of both sides, the defence asked why the chief accusation had been changed from “deliberately intentional” to “semi-intentional” act from the accused and observed that the photographer had been subject to twice beating, one of them fatal and said besides Mr. Ahmadi, another interrogator, namely Mr. Mohammad Bakhshi is suspected of violence against Ms. Kazemi.
Another lawyer for the Kazemi family asked why the authorities had rushed to burry the corpse and not allowing autopsy? – a procedure forbidden by Islamic Canons --.
However, considering the appalling record of the Islam-based Judiciary of the Islamic Republic in the one hand and the fact that Mr. Mortazavi is a protégé of the Iranian leader, observers doubted that the trial would be fair. ENDS KAZEMI TRIAL 17704