Canadian Tories slam Liberal 'silence' in Kazemi death, demand tough stand with Iran
Critics are calling on Prime Minister Paul Martin's government to take a harder line with Iran in the case of a Canadian woman who was tortured and killed in an Iranian prison The federal Conservatives and the freedom-of-speech group PEN Canada made the appeal Tuesday - a day after an Iranian court rejected demands for a new investigation into the case. Zahra Kazemi, 54, a Montreal-based photojournalist with Canadian-Iranian citizenship, died in July 2003 - 17 days after she was jailed for photographing a demonstration outside Tehran's Evin prison. READ MORE
Iran's judiciary charged a low-ranking intelligence official, Reza Ahmadi, with unintentionally killing her during interrogation. Ahmadi was cleared of the charge at trial last July, with the court citing a lack of evidence.
On Monday, an Iranian appeals court rejected demands for a new investigation into whether Kazemi's death was premeditated murder. That effectively laid the case to rest in Iran.
"A Canadian woman is falsely arrested, tortured, raped and murdered and the Iranian regime won't even investigate," said Stockwell Day, the Tory foreign affairs critic.
"And what do we hear from our government? Only the sounds of silence."
Day said Martin has remained woefully silent on the issue and urged the prime minister to demand that the case be properly investigated.
The government dismissed the criticism and accused Day of playing cheap politics.
"Mr. Day's obviously forgotten the statements he made a month ago in which he supported the government's initiatives on a constrained engagement with Iran," said Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad.
"We have done everything that we could ... Mr. Day is very quick on attack but very short on constructive specifics . . . and if he has something to say, he should either put up or shut up.
"It's a very serious issue. It ought not be trivialized for very short-term political gain."
McTeague said Canada has applied plenty of pressure and even temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Iran. The ambassador is back in Iran but only on a limited basis.
"This is a case at the highest level. There is no consular case ... for which the government has done more in my time than this case."
PEN Canada called on Ottawa to take strong action in the Kazemi case and that of imprisoned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji.
In a letter, organization president Constance Rooke called on Martin to urge Iran to end the impunity surrounding Kazemi's murder and to free Ganji.
"Both underwent inhumane mistreatment at the hands of officials in Evin prison," Rooke wrote.
Foreign Affairs Canada has criticized the court ruling on Kazemi.
"This dismissal illustrates 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," spokeswoman Marie-Christine Lilkoff said Monday.
She said Canada's policy of "controlled engagement" toward Iran will continue as Tehran has not taken steps to launch a credible and independent investigation into Kazemi's death.
She added that Canadian officials were present at Monday's hearing but no foreign journalists or diplomats were allowed into the courtroom.
Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who leads a team of lawyers representing Kazemi's mother, said the judiciary hastily buried Kazemi to cover up signs of torture.
Mohammad Seifzadeh, another lawyer, said there was no hope of justice from the Iranian judiciary. The lawyers will bring complaints about those allegedly involved in causing Kazemi's death to international organizations if demands for a fair trial are not met, Seifzadeh said.
Meanwhile, Ganji has been on hunger strike and said Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would be happy to see him die in prison.
He was jailed in 2000 after reporting on murders of five dissidents by Intelligence Ministry agents and hospitalized last Monday after a 45-day hunger strike left him severely weakened.