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Posted Sunday, July 18, 2004

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TEHRAN, 18 July (IPS) The surprising decision of the president of the tribunal that tries an Intelligence Ministry’s agent accused of the death of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi points to a hot confrontation among the Iranian ruling conservatives, according to political analysts.

As the second round of hearings into the controversial case opened on Sunday, foreign diplomats and journalists, among them the Canadian ambassador Philip Mackinnon, Dutch ambassador Hein De Vries, diplomats from the French and British embassies were barred from entering the court room by Judiciary agents explaining that “regulations have changed”.

At exactly the same time as all foreigners were told to stay out, the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was telling journalist that the presence of foreign diplomats and journalists at the trial “proves the tolerance and impartiality of the Iranian Justice” and the official news agency IRNA, in its first dispatch, had reported that the hearing “started with the presence of some foreign diplomats and journalists”.


the decision would certainly further damage the already very bad image of the Islamic Republic


"I don't know why they didn't let the foreign diplomats into the court. Maybe they did not have enough chairs", a visibly embarrassed Asefi told reporters after he was told what had happened at the court.

"Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian citizen. It is absurd for Canada to claim she was Canadian... It does not make sense to have a Canadian representative there", Asefi added, without explaining why then foreign diplomats and journalists had been allowed to the trial on Saturday.

“Considering the extensive coverage of the first hearing at local and international level, some ultra conservatives might have been frightened at the consequence and ordered the court to stop the show”, Mas’oud Behnoud, an independent Iranian journalist explained.

But the decision would certainly further damage the already very bad image of the Islamic Republic”, added another analyst.

The judge should not have ended the case. This trial is unfair and we refuse its decisions


"This is a very serious development, there will be diplomatic consequences", one of the diplomats barred from entering the court room told the French news agency AFP after waiting in his car outside the court for over an hour and failing to get a permit to enter.

"This goes against all the assurances we have had that the trial will be open and transparent," added another diplomat. "The cause of human rights in Iran has taken a very serious blow today".

Canada immediately ordered its ambassador out of Tehran.

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and her legal team that represent Kazemi's family walked out the court in protest and refused to sign the final act after the judge rejected their call for more witnesses.

Ms. Kazemi, a 54-year-old freelance photographer was arrested on 23 June 2003 while taking pictures outside Tehran's notorious Evin prison where families of political prisoners were demonstrating.

She died from a brain hemorrhage on 10 July in a military hospital run by the Revolutionary Guards.

The authorities initially claimed she had died of a brain stroke, but an investigation committee at ministerial level formed on orders of President Mohammad Khatami concluded that the death was the result of “a heavy object” hitting the photographer’s head.

Between her arrest and her admission to hospital, Ms. Kazemi had been interrogated four days and nights by agents from the Police, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Intelligence Ministry, each one accusing the other for the fatal blow.

Ebadi's legal team has accused the judiciary of trying the 42-year-old Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi, an Intelligence officer, in order to protect one of its own senior officials, namely Mr. Sa’id Mortazavi, the Prosecutor of Tehran and Islamic Revolution Tribunal, a protégé of the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i.

"The judge should not have ended the case. This trial is unfair and we refuse its decisions" Mrs. Ebadi told reporters after walking out, observing that the accused nor any of the lawyrs for the victim’s family had been able to study the the 2.000 pages file.

They also asked the court why another agent in Mr. Mohammad Bakhsi is not charged while it is believed that he also had beaten the photographer?

Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, said the charges should have been for "premeditated murder" instead of "semi-intentional murder" and called for the case to be referred to a higher provincial tribunal.


The judge should not have ended the case. This trial is unfair and we refuse its decisions


The defence also asked why Mr. Mortazavi, who was also present at some of the interrogations was not interrogated?

“The reason we walked out of the court was that none of our demands had been accepted, starting with out objection to the competence of the tribunal to handle this case”, Mrs. Ebadi told reporters, adding that the dossier if “full of contradictions and legal faults”.

The mother of the victim, Ezzat Kazemi, had also made a damning declaration in court Saturday by claiming her daughter was tortured while in custody. “I saw my daughter in coma, her head and body covered with bruises and blood all over. All I want is justice for her”, she told the audience in voice chocked by emotion.

It was not immediately clear when the judiciary would announce its verdict. ENDS KAZEMI TRIAL 18704


Head of Kazemi's defence team waled out the court room in protest


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