Monday, May 23, 2005

Back off on Kazemi, Iran tells Canada

Campbell Clark, The Globe and Mail:
Iran told Canada to back off yesterday over the case of Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in Iranian custody, criticizing the Canadian government's "immaturity" and warning it to stop interfering in the case. READ MORE

Spokesmen for both Iran's foreign ministry and its judiciary took shots at Canada over the weekend, and indicated that Ms. Kazemi's Canadian citizenship was irrelevant to them.

"I am amazed by [Canada's] immaturity. This lady was an Iranian citizen and this case is a domestic affair," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said yesterday.

"Canada's current attitude towards Iran will not lead to anything. Pressuring Iran in these kinds of affairs will not bring about any solutions."

The escalation in the diplomatic war led Canada to restate its demand for a new investigation in the case.

Canada insists Ms. Kazemi was murdered, and announced last week it would restrict its diplomatic ties with Iran because of the case.

"We continue to demand an investigation in this case," Foreign Affairs spokesman CloƩ Rodrigue said.

But the Iranian government statements drew new criticism of both Iran and Canada's Foreign Affairs department from Stephan Hashemi, Ms. Kazemi's son.

"I demand that the government not wait any longer and take immediate measures against the government of Iran," he said. "Two years are enough. Two years of insult to Canada."

Mr. Hashemi said that Ottawa opened the door to such statements by trying to engage in a dialogue with a regime that has proved complicit in the affair, rather than taking more direct action against Iran.

Instead of spending two years hoping that an Iranian government that has covered up the killing and the involvement of their own officials might deliver justice, Canada should take more direct action, he said. It should take the case to an international court, allow the Kazemi family to sue Iran and take international political action against the Iranian regime, he said.

"The Canadian government has for two years been drawn into the Iranian government's schemes. They played their game. They fell into their diversions," Mr. Hashemi said. "They are inviting the Iranian government to designate the guilty, when the guilty are clearly the Iranian government."

Mr. Hashemi has officially changed the spelling of his last name.

Ms. Kazemi died in July 2003 while in Iranian custody, after she was arrested for taking photos outside a Tehran prison where many dissidents are held.

Iranian officials initially said that she had suffered a stroke, and later that she had fallen and hit her head. An Iranian presidential commission found she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage.

A doctor who treated her, who has since fled the country and was recently granted asylum in Canada, Shahram Azam, said she appeared to have been tortured and raped.

Another doctor who treated her, Hadi Sepherlou, was reportedly arrested last week by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, said last week that Canada was restricting its relations with Iran to the Kazemi case, Iran's human-rights record and its record on nuclear non-proliferation.

That move came after a court abruptly adjourned when a Kazemi family lawyer in Iran asked for a new investigation.

"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," Mr. Pettigrew said.

Yesterday's counter-fire from the Iranian foreign ministry was not an isolated attack, as a spokesman for the country's judiciary also took Canada to task on Saturday.

"The Canadian government has to wait for a final investigation into the case [in July] before it starts criticizing," judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad told reporters in Tehran.

Marlys Edwardh, a lawyer representing Ms. Kazemi's family, scoffed at Iran's call for patience, and said the remarks amount to an assertion that they are not accountable to Canada for the death of a Canadian citizen in Iranian government custody.

"We've waited. They've lied to us. We've waited some more," she said. "We've asked for a whole range of things which in the civilized world would be granted. I think Canada's patience has gone on for far too long."

Ms. Kazemi, who was 54 when she died, was born in Iran but lived her adult life in Canada, and held Canadian citizenship. But Iranian officials have continued to call the case a "domestic" or "local" matter.

"The reason they say it's a local issue is because they have refused on many occasions to acknowledge dual nationality," Ms. Edwardh said.

"All that is is a big smokescreen to say they have no accountability in the international forum or to Canada."