Zahra Kazemi’s killers still unpunished, 15 years after her death in custody

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention in Tehran as a result of torture and mistreatment in Evin prison, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the complete impunity still enjoyed by her torturers.

Her killers included then Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who was responsible for many crimes of violence against journalists and citizen-journalists during his long career as a henchman for Supreme Leader and press freedom predator Ali Khamenei.


Zahra Kazemi was 55 years old when she died on 11 July 2003 from the injuries received at the hands of her torturers following her arrest 18 days earlier while photographing the families of detainees waiting outside Evin prison.


Referring to Iran’s failure to punish anyone for his mother’s death, Stephan Hashemi said in 2014: “The government of Iran is fully responsible for the death under torture of my mother Zahra Kazemi. It is also a very clear and proven case of cover-up by the Iranian government.”


In carefully staged judicial proceedings, one of the intelligence officers who interrogated Kazemi was charged with her death on 24 July 2004 only to be acquitted by a Tehran appeal court on 16 May 2005. The Kazemi family lawyers said they were unable to address these hearings, which the defendant did not attend, and that their requests for senior judicial officials to be summoned to testify were ignored, depriving the hearings of key witnesses.


Although Mortazavi, the then Tehran prosecutor, has never paid for his part in her death, he was reportedly arrested on 22 April of this year to serve a two-year jail sentence for complicity in the murder of Mohsen Roholamini, a senior regime official’s son. Roholamini was one of three people who died as a result of mistreatment in Kahrizak prison after being arrested on 12 June 2009 for participating in protests against then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection.


Zahra Kazemi is a symbol of all the human rights violations perpetrated in Iran since the clerics seized power in 1979. She was a woman and a journalist who wanted to tell the world about the terrible conditions in Tehran’s Evin prison, a symbol of the regime’s relentless repression.


Journalists still persecuted


Women journalists are still being persecuted and mistreated in Iranian jails 15 years later. Three women citizen-journalists with the independent Sufi news website Majzooban NoorSepideh Moradi, Avisha Jalaledin and Shima Entesari – received five-year jail sentences from a Tehran revolutionary court this week on charges of “meeting and plotting against national security.”


Their ten male colleagues at Majzooban NoorReza Entesari, Kasra Nouri, Mostafa Abdi, Saleh Moradi, Sina Entesari, Amir Nouri, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, Mohammad Reza Darvishi, Abass Dehghan and Poriya Nouri – refused to appear in court in protest against the unfairness of the proceedings.

When arrested on the night of 19 February, they were all badly beaten by police and plainclothes militiamen and denied their basic rights in violation of both Iranian regulations and international law.


Two other women journalists, Narges Mohammadi and Hengameh Shahidi, and one other woman citizen-journalist, Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, are currently detained in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which makes it one of the world’s three biggest jailers of women journalists and women citizen-journalists, along with Turkey and Syria.


The many other examples of impunityfor murders of journalists in Iran include those of Ebrahim Zalzadeh, Majid Charif, Mohamad Mokhtari, Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh and Pirouz Davani, who were murdered by intelligence ministry agents from September to December 1998.


They also include the deaths in detention of Firat news agency reporter Ayfer Serçe (2006), blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi (2009), former Abrar Economy reporter Alireza Eftekhari (2009), journalist and women’s rights activist Haleh Sahabi (2011), Iran-e-Farda journalist Hoda Saber (2011) and blogger Sattar Beheshti (2012).


Iran is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.


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Updated on 10.07.2018