Iran Offers to Help Find Journalist’s Killer

By: Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer

(AP) In a direct challenge to the country’s hard-line judiciary, Iran’s reformist administration on Monday offered to help identify the killer of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist after one suspect was acquitted.

Siding with the victim’s family, government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said the Intelligence Ministry was prepared to take action, with the judiciary’s permission.

A Tehran court on Saturday cleared secret agent Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, the sole defendant, of killing Zahra Kazemi, who died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage while in detention last July.

A judiciary statement released Monday said Ahmadi was acquitted “due to lack of sufficient evidence,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

During the trial, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who represents the victim’s mother, accused prison official Mohammad Bakhshi — not the secret agent — of inflicting the fatal blow that killed Kazemi. She also said the conservative judiciary illegally detained her.

The judiciary has already cleared Bakhshi of any wrongdoing.

Ebadi has rejected the court proceedings as flawed and threatened to take the matter to international organizations if the appeals court and other legal stages fail to carry out justice. The Canadian government has blamed Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for the death, and reformists have accused him of a cover up.

Ramezanzadeh said the Intelligence Minister was prepared “to conduct a transparent and open investigation in the presence of all involved parties, including the victim’s relatives, to identify the facts.”

Judiciary officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died July 10, 2003, while in detention for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy.

Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke, but a presidential committee later found she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage.

Last week, journalists complained that Mortazavi had told them not to report on parts of the trial. Most Iranian newspapers have not published the accusations against Bakhshi and the prosecution, apparently fearing retribution.

Iran-Canada relations, soured by the slaying and Kazemi’s quick burial in Iran against the wishes of her son in Canada, further deteriorated after Iran rejected the idea of Canadian observers attending the trial. Relations were further strained when the Canadian ambassador was not allowed to attend the last session of the open trial.

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