Dead photographer's son flays Iran
by Ismail ElMokadem in Montreal, Canada
Monday 20 June 2005 11:27 PM GMT
The son of Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who died in a Tehran jail, has demanded that the Iranian government be taken to the International Court of Justice for his mother's death.
Kazemi died in Iranian custody on 11 July 2003 after her arrest and detention for taking photographs of a student demonstration outside a high security prison in Tehran.
After launching an inquiry into the cause of her death, a Tehran court ruled that Kazemi's death was caused by an "accidental fall".
They explained that a hunger strike and the resulting reduction in blood pressure led to her loss of balance and eventual death.
The verdict has now been challenged in a higher court.
Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, is convinced that the appeal plea is irrelevant since it implicates only one man. He believes it is the wider Iranian system that should be held responsible for the maltreatment of his mother.
"It is time to go to the International Court of Justice," Hachemi said.
The Hague-based ICJ, however, only investigates legal disputes that are in accordance with international law submitted to it by states, not individuals.
All member states of the UN are entitled to apply to the court.
Hachemi blames the Canadian government for not confronting Iran more aggressively about his mother's case from the beginning.
"The government of Canada has the necessary resources to confront the government of Iran in regards to the abuses a Canadian citizen had experienced," he said.
For its part, the Canadian government insists it has taken measures short of severing ties with Tehran.
A Montreal trade conference Doing Business with Iran scheduled for last June was cancelled without any commitment to reschedule.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson James Christoff told Aljazeera.net that trade between the two countries will be minimised, if not halted altogether.
"All existing cooperation programmes between the government of Canada organisations and their Iranian counterparts will be suspended," he said.
"We will not prohibit private Canadian companies from trading with Iranian counterparts. However, we will continue to apply strict export controls on dual purpose good."
"These measures will be maintained until Iran takes the desired steps to launch a credible and effective investigation that will have real consequences for the guilty parties."
The Canadian government's patience may be wearing thin, however. After the first day of the appeal trial passed without any clear developments, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would further limit its relations with the Islamic republic.
"Yesterday's events illustrate once again that the Iranian justice system has neither the capacity nor the will to confront the perpetrators of the brutal murder of Zahra Kazemi. Canada will not accept justice being denied," the Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said.
"Effective immediately, we are further tightening our policy of controlled engagement. We will limit our encounters with Iranian officials to the Kazemi case, Iran's human-rights record and Iran's nuclear proliferations performance."
"No visits or exchanges by Iranian officials to Canada will be permitted, nor will Canadian officials engage with Iran, except relating to these issues," the foreign minister said.
Unsurprisingly, Iran's charge d'affaires at its embassy in Ottawa, Abbas Assemi, has brushed aside Canadian and international criticism of his country's handling of the trial and insisted the matter is entirely a domestic affair.
"We do not believe that this case can be taken to International Court of Justice. Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian national and in turn her death is a domestic affair," Assemi told Aljazeera.net.
"The Tehran court will decide the fate of the Kazemi issue. Other than that we have nothing to say."
Iranian authorities have strictly forbidden Canadian or international observers from attending the appeal proceedings.
The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has always held the view that Kazemi's dual citizenship limited Canada's capacity to intervene in the case.
Hachemi does not believe this is a good argument.
"It is time to go to the International Court
"Dual citizenship is just a wrong argument that has been presented as an excuse. According to international law, in a case of dual nationality, one's dominant nationality is determined according to certain criteria which are, only to name a few: the country where the person lived the most; where the person worked and had employers; where the person has had most social activity. In the case of my mother, her dominant nationality was without doubt Canadian."
To Hachemi, all actions taken by the Canadian government against Iran have been inadequate and delayed.
"I asked a lot of different things from the Canadian government, such as having an independent doctor to give medical assistance to my mother. I then asked for an independent examination to ascertain the cause of her death, and finally for her remains to be returned to Canada. None of these things were done."
Shahram Azam, a former doctor in the Iranian Ministry of Defence who fled his country to apply for refugee status in Canada, says he conducted a medical examination on Kazemi after she had been arrested.
He found evidence of brain haemorrhage, flogging, broken ribs, missing fingernails, a smashed toe, broken ribs, a fractured skull, and brutal rape.
The Iranian embassy would not return calls concerning the doctor's claims.
By Ismail ElMokadem in Montreal, Canada
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