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Five years after unexplained death of journalist, new inquiry lacks independence

(RSF/IFEX) - Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died exactly five years ago, as of 10 July 2008, from a cerebral haemorrhage following beatings she received in Evin prison, Tehran. In January, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial because of irregularities that affected the appeal court's verdict in November 2005.

"Five years after the death of Zahra Kazemi and despite the decision to reopen the case, we have received no assurance that the second investigation will be carried out independently and without interference from the public prosecutor, Said Mortazavi", Reporters Without Borders said. "His involvement in the journalist's death is recognised although he has never been called to account for it. We are afraid this inquiry will be meaningless and will not lead to the identification of all those involved in the death."

The Tehran province high court began re-examining the case on 17 March. At that first hearing, attended by lawyers for the journalist's family, Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and Mohammed Sifzadeh, the court agreed to look into a complaint filed by her son, Stephan Hachimi. He has always called for his mother's body to be repatriated to Canada for an independent autopsy, but the journalist's mother was put under pressure to allow a hasty burial in the southern town of Chiraz on 22 July 2003. Requests for Kazemi's body to be exhumed have so far remained unanswered.

The family's lawyers have several times condemned the case as a travesty of justice. Their requests for leading members of the judiciary to be summoned have always been refused, denying them access to key witnesses. Said Mortazavi has never given evidence, even though he was originally responsible for Kazemi's arrest and was there when she was interrogated in Evin prison. Reporters Without Borders supports the lawyers' request for "a full, free and fair investigation" and "the appointment of a completely independent judge".

Following strong pressure from Canada and an inquiry by the Iranian parliament, the judiciary said intelligence agent Reza Aghdam Ahmadi was responsible for the journalist's death but he was cleared by the Tehran appeal court in November 2005. Since then the Iranian authorities have made no further arrests.

Kazemi, 54, was arrested on 23 June 2003 as she was taking photos of prisoners' relatives outside Evin jail.

Updates the Kazemi case:

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