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Quebec court to hear Kazemi family case against Iranian government

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is supporting the lawsuit which Stephan Hashemi has brought against the Islamic Republic of Iran before a Montreal court in a bid to obtain reparation for the detention, torture and death of his mother, photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi, in a Tehran prison in July 2003. Kazemi had Iranian and Canadian dual citizenship and lived in Montreal.

After two years of legal stalling and postponements in February and May of this year, the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal began hearing the case on 2 December 2009 and is due to continue until 8 December. The Canadian section of Reporters Without Borders plans to attend all the hearings.

The first few days are expected to be given over to attempts by both the Canadian and Iranian governments to have the case thrown out under a federal law called the State Immunity Act, which prohibits lawsuits against foreign governments before Canadian courts, except in certain circumstances that do not apply to this case. The two governments have a list of nearly 200 precedents in which this law was applied.

Reporters Without Borders points out, however, that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian's right to due process according to the principles of fundamental justice that guide Canadian law. At the same time, the judge hearing the case has accepted that such a hearing would be impossible in Iran because of its highly political nature.

"For the past six years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has done everything possible to ensure that Kazemi's murderers, including former Tehran prosecutor-general Sayeed Mortazavi, go unpunished," Reporters Without Borders said. "Mortazavi continues to enjoy the direct protection of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Canada and the European Union should support the Kazemi family's attempt to end this impunity."

Kazemi was arrested on 23 June 2003 while photographing the families of detainees waiting outside Evin prison in north Tehran. She was tortured during detention and died on 10 July as result of the injuries she received.

In a press release on 26 June of this year, Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon noted that two official investigations had confirmed that it was Mortazavi who ordered Kazemi's arrest and detention, which resulted in her being "tortured to death." Mortazavi is also alleged to have forged documents to conceal his role in her death.

The Kazemi family's lawyers have repeatedly condemned the judicial proceedings in Iran as a farce. Their attempts to summon senior judicial officials for questioning were never successful, with the result that key witnesses never testified. Mortazavi was never questioned, despite being the one who ordered Kazemi's arrest and being present while she was interrogated.

"The government of Iran is fully responsible for the death under torture of my mother Zahra Kazemi," Hashemi said. "It is also a very clear and proven case of cover-up by the Iranian government."

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