Impunity continues seven years after Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention. Those responsible for her death have enjoyed complete impunity for the past seven years, thanks in part to the silence and passivity of the international bodies that are supposed to protect human rights. Mistreatment, rape and torture are common in Iranian prisons. Those behind the murders of prisoners, such as former Tehran prosecutor general Sayeed Mortazavi, continue to hold important posts within the political apparatus. A resident of Canada, Kazemi, 54, was arrested on 23 June 2003 while photographing the families of detainees waiting outside Evin prison in north Tehran. She was badly beaten during detention and died on 10 July 2003 from the injuries she had received. The Iranian authorities issued a report 10 days later recognising her death was the result of a blow but failing to explain how it was inflicted. Under duress, Kazemi’s mother, an Iranian resident, agreed to a hasty burial on 22 July 2003. Ever since then, Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hashemi, who lives in Canada, has been asking for the body to be exhumed and repatriated to Canada so that an independent autopsy can be carried out. The Kazemi family’s lawyers have repeatedly condemned all the judicial proceedings in Iran as a sham. Their requests for senior judicial officials to appear in court have never been satisfied, depriving them of key witnesses. Above all, Mortazavi, who ordered Kazemi’s arrest and was present when she was interrogated in Evin prison, has never been questioned in court. Reporters Without Borders supported the civil lawsuit that Hashemi brought against the Iranian government before the Quebec high court claiming damages for his mother’s arrest, detention, torture and death. The press freedom organisation urges Canada and the European Union to support this legal action, in order to end the impunity in this case. Meanwhile, the family of Abdolreza Tajik, a journalist and member of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, has still not been told why he was arrested on 12 June or where he is being held. Cases of activists or journalists disappearing following their arbitrary arrest and detention are still frequent and are even tending to become the norm. Tajik could become another victim of the Iranian judicial system. Reporters Without Borders points out that cases of detainees being held incommunicado can be regarded as forced disappearances and as crimes against humanity. They constitute violations of international law. What is the international community doing about it?
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Updated on 20.01.2016