By: Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer
(AP) An Iranian-Canadian journalist died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a beating after she was arrested while taking photographs during anti-government protests last month, Iran’s vice president said Wednesday.
It was the first admission from an Iranian official that Zahra Kazemi, who died Friday, was beaten.
Earlier, Iranian officials maintained Kazemi, a freelance photographer, died of a stroke, contrary to her family’s contention that she was beaten to death by Iranian security agents who detained her as she covered the student-led protests.
“She has died of a brain hemorrhage resulting from blows inflicted on her,” Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. “We are pursuing details of the matter to see how it happened.”
Wednesday’s revelation underscored the struggle between reformers and hard-liners who control Iran’s judiciary and security forces.
Government hard-liners had insisted Kazemi died of a stroke and tried to push ahead with her funeral. But a committee appointed by reformist President Mohammad Khatami to investigate the death stepped in Tuesday to prevent the burial, and Wednesday’s admission about the beating came from Abtahi, a Khatami ally.
Kazemi’s death “has no outcome other than tarnishing our international image at a time when we are in deep crisis at home and abroad,” Abtahi said Wednesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien called Wednesday for a full investigation into Kazemi’s death.
“We’re very keen on having the truth … and if crimes have been committed, we will demand [the perpetrators] face justice,” Chretien told reporters in Quebec.
Reformists have linked Kazemi’s death to a crackdown by hard-liners on journalists. Khatami has decried the closure of more than 90 newspapers in the past three years and the imprisonment of dozens of writers and activists in mostly closed trials without jury as a violation of the constitution, but said he was “powerless” to stop them. A number of Iranian journalists have been arrested in the past few days.
Last month’s protests, among the largest in years against the Islamic establishment, underline the growing anger and disillusionment among the Iranian public.
On Wednesday, Khatami ordered his ministers of justice and intelligence to review their enforcement of judicial and security powers over journalists, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Kazemi, 54, who held both Canadian and Iranian passports and lived in Quebec, was detained in Tehran on June 23 as she took photos of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison during the protests. Family and friends said she was allegedly branded a spy and beaten unconscious by police interrogators. She was never formally charged with any crime.
Friends who visited her in the hospital days before she died said she was unconscious, with severe cuts and bruises on her face and head.
Authorities had tried to limit coverage of the protests by keeping journalists away from the heart of the demonstrations. A government order last month warned journalists that getting too close to the unrest could be dangerous.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International joined calls by Iran’s Islamic Human Rights Commission and other organizations for an independent investigation into Kazemi’s death.
Her son, Stephan Hachemi, said Wednesday in Montreal he was not satisfied with Iran’s explanation.
“I’m not surprised about anything when it comes to what they’re saying,” he said. “The cause of her death is not clear.”
He said he wants his mother’s body returned to Canada, and a full investigation involving Canadians to determine how she died.
Joel Ruimy, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, called Wednesday’s revelation that Kazemi was beaten a first step in uncovering the circumstances of her death.
“Until all the facts come out, the West should be very wary of full normalization with Iran,” added Ruimy, who spoke to The Associated Press in Toronto.