Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Canada Renews Demand for Kazemi's Body

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The Canadian Press / Mike Blanchfield

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon denounced a former Tehran prosecutor Monday and renewed Canada's six-year-old demand to have the body of slain Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi repatriated from Iran. Cannon's comments came in response to a recent Iranian parliamentary investigation that found ex-prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi responsible for the deaths of at least three protesters imprisoned after last summer's disputed Iranian elections. Mortazavi has been named in a $17-million lawsuit by Kazemi's family for his role in her imprisonment, sexual assault and beating death in 2003. The Canadian government supports the suit. "Mr. Mortazavi has displayed his disregard for the respect of human rights on several occasions, including during the detention and murder of Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi," Cannon said in a written comment Monday to The Canadian Press. "Canada also continues to call upon Iran to conduct a credible investigation into the murder of Zahra Kazemi. The search for justice remains firmly on the agenda in Canada's relations with Iran." Canada and Iran have downgraded their diplomatic relations, with neither country allowing a full-fledged ambassador to serve in each other's capital, in part due to the Kazemi case. Kazemi, 54, was born in Iran and later became a Canadian citizen, settling in Montreal. In June 2003, she was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran for taking photographs of a demonstration and died 17 days later after being repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted. The Iranian government promptly buried her before an autopsy could be performed, pre-empting any attempt by her Canadian family to have her body returned. In Iran, Mortazavi has earned the nickname, "butcher of the press" for his leading role in the detention and abuse of journalists, bloggers and other dissenters.

Human rights groups have for years singled out Mortazavi. The pressure grew after his roundup of hundreds of dissenters and journalists following the disputed June 12 presidential election, which spawned the largest protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mazair Bahari, a Canadian journalist and filmmaker who reports for the U.S. magazine, Newsweek, was arrested in the June crackdown but was released unharmed in October. Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said no one should be surprised that Mortazavi has been linked to more deaths of jailed dissenters. "There consistently, in the past, has never been anything done to ensure that he is accountable and brought to justice for the many violations he has been accused of, and thus he has long enjoyed a sense of impunity and un-touchability in Iran," Neve said. Neve said Kazemi's family is seeking justice not only for her death, but to prevent Mortazavi from hurting others in the future. "There is something that is particularly touching and heart wrenching for the Kazemi family in this because they have been so diligent in their pursuit of justice for Zahra Kazemi and certainly have repeatedly pointed the finger at Mr. Mortazavi and the importance of him being held accountable." Canada's diplomatic contact with Iran is limited to four subjects: human rights, Iran's nuclear program, its regional role and the Kazemi case. Cannon said Monday that he does not want to comment specifically on the Iranian parliamentary probe into last summer's protests and arrests. "Canada has consistently called upon Iran to respect all of its human rights obligations," Cannon added. "We have clearly noted our concerns regarding the heavy-handed crackdown by Iranian security forces on legitimate protesters and called for a free and transparent investigation into allegations of abuse following unrest."