Iran: Investigations into Kazemi Death Fall Short of Independent Inquiry Needed to Provide Justice

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

'Only a fully independent investigation with judicial powers can reveal the truth about the killing of Zahra Kazemi and ensure that justice is done.

'The investigators must be able to subpoena witnesses, including members of the Office of the Tehran Chief Prosecutor, compel the disclosure of documents and ensure the protection of witnesses from harassment or intimidation. Mechanisms must be developed to prevent similar human rights violations happening in the future.'

An initial inquiry conducted by the government concluded on 21 July that Zahra Kazemi, who had been arrested on 23 June in connection with taking photos outside Tehran's Evin Prison, died from a blow to her skull while in police custody. On 30 July, Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi stated that 'the cause of the murder was a blow to the head'. The government's inquiry reportedly did not receive co-operation from the Office of the Tehran Chief Prosecutor, the institution responsible for her arrest and initial detention. The same office has refused to co-operate with a parliamentary inquiry that has started deliberations into the case, while there are other internal inquiries underway.

Amnesty International welcomed the individual inquiries established by the government, parliament and other bodies, each of which have an important contribution to make in developing laws and practices to prevent human rights abuses. But the human rights organisation warned that the inquiries were unduly limited.

Stephen Bowen said: 'The current inquiries lack the scope and legal power required to reach credible conclusions and recommendations. They also fall short of the type of investigations required by Iran's obligations under international human rights treaties.'

Background

On 23 June 2003 Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, 54, was arrested for taking photographs outside Evin prison, in an area where photography is prohibited. According to a government enquiry, Zahra Kazemi died as a result of a blow to her skull, while under guard at the Baghiyetollah (or Baghiyeta'zam) Hospital in Tehran on 12 July. The report recommended that the case be examined by a 'special independent investigator' from the judiciary.

On 30 July a government spokesperson stated that Zahra Kazemi was murdered. The day before, judicial officials had confirmed that five individuals had been arrested in connection with the case, of which three are said to be from Tehran's judiciary and two from the Ministry of Intelligence.

A Supreme Court judge and members of parliament - including the heads of key parliamentary committees - have criticised the nature of the judicial enquiry initiated to investigate Kazemi's death in custody. They stated that it may come to the same end as inquiries into the extra-judicial executions of at least four political dissidents and intellectuals in the latter part of 1998, events known in Iran as the 'serial murders' case.

The inquiry into the 'serial murders' case and other cases of death in custody and extra-judicial execution have fallen far short of the standards required under Iran's international obligations. Neither the perpetrators nor those who may have ordered killings have been successfully prosecuted and there is widespread belief in Iran that the cases have been covered up.

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