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Iran Admits its Security Forces Beat to Death an International Journalist; her Son Demands the Return of her Body to Canada

July 16, 2003

Zahra Kazemi was taking pictures of a notorious prison in Tehran. Democracy Now! speaks with her son, her friend, a Doctor who spoke with witnesses to her beating by Iranian police and a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Iranian government has finally admitted that they beat an international journalist to death. She was in Tehran covering protests by students demanding reforms.

Zahra Kazemi, a dual citizen of Canada and Iran, was detained last month for taking pictures of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where many dissidents are jailed.

She was later taken to a hospital where she died last Friday. She was 54 years old.

Iran’s government spokesman announced Kazemi’s death on Saturday. He also added that she was treated as an Iranian because she had remained an Iranian national.

Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday ordered four ministers to investigate her death.

Conflicting reports have emerged over the status of Kazemi’s body over the last few days.

Canada’s ambassador to Iran said yesterday that the body has not been buried.

Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, said on Monday he believes his mother has in fact been buried in Iran and is demanding the body be returned to Canada. He added that if his grandmother authorized her burial, then she did so under pressure from Iranian officials.

Kazemi’s death has coincided with a widening crackdown against journalists, student leaders and pro-democracy activists carried out by conservative clerics who control the judiciary and shadow security services.

Over the weekend Iranian authorities arrested five more journalists bringing the number of journalists presently imprisoned in Iran to 22.

  • Melanie Navarro, friend and colleague of Zahra Kazemi. She is an assistant editor of Montreal’s Recto Verso magazine.
  • Dr. Ramin Ahmadi, an Iranian-American physician. He is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Yale University and the Director of the Griffin Center for Health and Human Rights.
  • Joel Campagna, Middle East and North Africa senior coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.


AMY GOODMAN: The Iranian government today finally admitted they beat an international journalist to death. She was in Tehran covering protests by students demanding reforms. Zahra Kazemi, a dual citizen of Canada and Iran, was detained last month for taking pictures of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where many dissidents are jailed. She was later taken to the hospital where she died last Friday. She was 54 years old.

Iran’s government spokesperson announced Kazemi’s death on Saturday. He also added she was treated as an Iranian because she remained an Iranian national. Iran’s president Mohammed Khatami ordered four investigators to investigate her death. Conflicting reports have emerged over the status of Kazemi’s body. Canada’s ambassador to Iran said the body had not been buried, but her son Stephan Hachemi says he believes his mother has in fact been buried in Iran, and is demanding that her body be returned to Canada. He added that if his grandmother, her mother, authorized her burial, she did so under pressure from Iranian officials. We reached Stephan Hachemi late yesterday in Canada and asked him to talk about what has happened to his mother.


STEPHAN HACHEMI: She has been tortured, she has been murdered by the Iranian government. They made her suffer and now I really hope that they’re going to cooperate to give us what we want. And to respect her last wishes.

AMY GOODMAN: What is happening now?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: We want to get the body back. We want official Canadian doctor be allowed to make an autopsy of her body, as simple as that. If she’s buried or not, it’s no matter to me, I don’t care you know, if she’s buried they have to exhume her to make the autopsy. And bring her body back here in Canada where she belong. That’s my last wish, that was her last wish and it has to be respected and the truth of what I’ve heard how they murdered of my mother has to come out.

AMY GOODMAN: The Iranian authorities are saying that your grandmother, her mother —

STEPHAN HACHEMI: She has been forced, she has been pressured, she had no choice. This has to be clear. She is absolutely sure she wanted the same thing as me — they’ve been in touch with her before. They forced this declaration. She wanted her daughter to be brought back to Canada where she belongs.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the Canadian government doing to get your mother’s body back? And to have an investigation of her death?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: Well, they’re doing what they can, they’re doing politics, that’s what they’re doing.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that, do you feel they’re working hard enough?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: They don’t work hard enough for me. They don’t give me any results. Since the beginning and I’m absolutely not satisfied about this.

AMY GOODMAN: They said that they don’t have the power because she entered on her Iranian passport, not her Canadian passport. What is your response?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: Whatever, they can give me excuses. They’re really good to find excuses. And they’re not good to give results. The only excuse they should give is if we could look at them objectively, maybe we could advance forward and maybe have a positive result. This is the only excuse they can give.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think they are not pressing hard enough? What is Canada’s relationship with Iran?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: I just told you, I don’t have any results.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes—I know why you think they’re not. But I’m saying what do you think is the political relationship between Canada and Iran?

STEPHAN HACHEMI: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t care. I only want my mother back here and I won’t let them — I want the government to let us have official Canadian doctor to make an autopsy of the body of my mother. Why they don’t do that is because they have too much money involved, and they don’t want to ruin their diplomacy, it’s obvious.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephan Hachemi, he is the son of Zahra Kazemi. The Iranian government admitted its security forces beat her to death. She had been taking photographs of the notorious prison in Tehran after there were student protests and many of the students were arrested.

Doctor Ramin Ahmadi joins us right now. He is an Iranian American physician and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Yale University, Director of the Griffin Center for Health and Human Rights. Doctor Ahmadi, thank you for joining us. Can you talk about what you know at this point about Zahra Kazemi’s visit to the Evin prison?

DR. RAMIN AHMADI: Thank you. What we do not know, really is what did Kazemi see and when did she see it. As clearly, she was witness to an event that was important to the regime and clearly she had documented a particular violation that was extremely sensitive. She, from what we know so far, was arrested in front of the Evin prison on June 23. Now, there were witnesses at the time, this arrest was witnessed. The beating that took place right there and then was witnessed. She was then taken away to an unknown prison, not to the official prison in Iran. Now she was then turned over to the custody of the Ministry of Intelligence on June 26, three days later. Now, what we understand is that few hours after she was given to the Ministry of Intelligence, she was transferred to a hospital. So obviously she was turned over to the Ministry of Intelligence and — in sort of very bad shape. She was physically beaten at that point. Now, she spent several days from that point on in a coma and then subsequently died. And there’s not only — now this is based on the reports of the witnesses in front of Evin prison, and activists who are in close contact with what happened in Iran. But finally yesterday the chairman of the National Security Commission of the Iranian parliament also went on record, giving the same story. That was according to intelligence reports that he had received. So at least the intelligence community is also confessing that there were three days, three critical days, where the beating, torture took place and someone, and then as soon as she died, calls the Minister of Islamic Guidance, now this is a Ministry that is in charge of censorship, and keeping sort of control and making sure the reporters are all reporting what they should. And that they’re not reporting what they should not.

Now the Ministry of Islamic Guidance was contacted. They had no idea that this Canadian reporter was killed. And they were told that immediately go public and announce publicly that she is dead. That same someone apparently called the Islamic Republic News agency and insists that they put the news out on the wire very quickly. Now again, this very same someone had insisted that the body be buried quickly inside Iran. Very, very quickly. They rushed the body, they forced the family to agree to the burial. Now from what we understand, from the report of the chairman of the National Security Commission, this someone may very well be this famous hanging judge, Judge Mortazavi. This particular judge is very well-known for his hostility towards reporters and the media. This is the judge that has closed down all of the independent newspapers in Iran in this last two years. He is the one who has put in prison, as of yesterday, a total of 18 journalists. Two more journalists were arrested yesterday. Mr. Rasteghar, Iraj Rasteghar, and Esau [unclear] who are well-known writers and reporters, bringing the total to 18 journalists, making Iran practically the largest, biggest prison for journalist in the Middle East. We believe that there are reliable reports that Judge Mortazavi, was present during the interrogation of Miss Kazemi. That [he] witnessed the torture that was going on and subsequently made every effort to cover it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ramin Ahmadi is Director of the Griffin Center for Health and Human Rights at Yale University. We’re also joined by Joel Campagna, Middle East and North Africa senior coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists Following up on Dr. Ahmadi’s last point. The crackdown in Iran on journalists, five more journalists arrested over the weekend by Iranian authorities, bringing the number, its believed presently of journalists in prison, to around 22.

JOEL CAMPAGNA: We look at — there’s certainly been an ongoing crackdown against independent media in Iran dating back to 2000 in fact, when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lashed out in a very aggressive way, accusing the reformist media in that country of being centrally foreign agents. Since that time we’ve seen dozens of newspapers closed down by the judiciary, and in particular the press court which handles press matters. We’ve seen dozens of journalists called in for questioning subject to criminal prosecutions, and really it’s been a constant crackdown. And today we’re seeing the arrest of activists, freedom of expression activists, political activists as well as journalists and as the previous guest mentioned, a few journalists were detained over the weekend. These are cases that we are very concerned about and are continuing to investigate.

AMY GOODMAN: Joel Campagna, what about the issue of the journalist who the Iranian security forces beat and killed, and now admitted today for the first time. What about the fact that Kazemi was Iranian and Canadian? The Canadian government has said it made it harder for them to protest—her son scoffed at this—because she was Iranian. The idea that she was treated as an Iranian rather than an international journalist or a Canadian journalist.

JOEL CAMPAGNA: I think that the Canadian government has been demanding a public investigation from the Iranian government and I think irrespective of her nationality what needs to be determined is who is responsible for her death. As you mentioned today for the first time, the wire is reporting today, the Iranian vice president saying that she had in fact died as a result of beating. And now the real challenge ahead is to determine who is responsible for this and to make sure that they are punished to the full extent of the law. And so far the Iranian authorities have been less than transparent on this issue. Although we certainly welcome the attempt by president Khatami to order an investigation, there has been conflicting information about the results of the autopsy over the weekend. Now we’re see the statement by the vice president, but there were uncertainties by the Canadian authorities whether or not she had been buried. Again this lack of transparency does not bode well for a future investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And basically the admission of how Iranian —- of how the Iranian government and security forces—-the difference between how they treat Iranians and internationals as if that should make a difference. But I wanted to bring in Melanie Navarro as well. She was a friend and colleague of Zahra Kazemi. She is assistant editor of Montreal’s Recto Verso magazine. Many of Zahra’s photographs appeared there. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk for a minute about your friend?

MELANIE NAVARRO: Well, the best word to describe her I guess would be—she was a passionate woman. She was passionate about life. Passionate about her work. She was really concerned with social justice. And especially with the situation of women and children around this world. And I guess her work reflected who she was as a woman. She was really courageous and she was willing to take some risks to exposing justice. I guess that was what all her life was about.

AMY GOODMAN: Did she know how dangerous it was to go to her home country of Iran?

MELANIE NAVARRO: Yeah. I know she — actually when she left I remember she told me to pray for her. But we never thought that something like that would happen to her because we know she was especially cautious and she knew the situation. But I don’t think she never, ever, expected that.

AMY GOODMAN: She had reported from Afghanistan, had recently come from Iraq, had reported from the occupied territories, Palestine and, rather photographed these areas?

MELANIE NAVARRO: Yes. She was a really experienced woman. Exactly. She traveled all around the world and — actually the last time I talked with her was on June 23, and she was planning to go to [unclear] and I didn’t hear from her after that. Honestly it didn’t even cross my mind she was into trouble because I know she was so cautious about everything. And we were just devastated when we learned what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Melanie Navarro, our condolences, and thank you for joining us from Montreal. She is assistant editor at Recto Verso magazine in Canada, friend of Zahra Kazemi, who was killed by Iranian security forces last month, the Iranian government admitted that today. Her son demanding her body be returned to Canada. You are listening to Democracy Now! When we come back, we will take a look at the corporations profiting from the Iranian dictatorship. Stay with us.

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