| Canada-based Iranian scribe Zahra Kazemi. (Reuters)
Tehran, July 16 (Reuters): Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was beaten to death during or after her arrest outside a Tehran prison last month, Iranian vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi said today.
Iran’s government promised to prosecute those responsible for the death of Montreal-based Kazemi, 54, a Canadian of Iranian descent who died on Friday of what relatives and friends always insisted were head injuries. Iranian officials had earlier said she was killed by a stroke.
“According to a report by the health minister she has died of a brain haemorrhage resulting from beatings,” Abtahi said. “The death of Zahra Kazemi... creates a very black picture (of Iran) in the world.”
Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday ordered four ministers to investigate Kazemi’s death.
Abtahi said it was still not clear whether the beating took place during her arrest last month outside Evin prison, where many dissidents are jailed, or during later interrogation.
“As soon as the results of the investigation by the committee appointed by the President are presented to the cabinet, we will definitely introduce to the court those who have committed a probable violation... if a violation is proven,” government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said.
Kazemi’s death appeared likely to mar what had been relatively smooth relations between Iran and Canada, which has insisted her body be returned to her adoptive country.
“From our point of view, because she has Iranian citizenship, no foreign government has the right to make special comments on this issue,” Ramazanzadeh said.
“Kazemi was an Iranian citizen and Iranian laws are applicable, not the laws of another country.”
Iran’s state-run Human Rights Commission said the arrest had taken place under the authority of Tehran prosecutor-general Saeed Mortezavi. “Naturally the same source should be answerable for the situation,” it said earlier this week.
Iran’s reformers, led by President Mohammad Khatami, have often accused the hardline judiciary of running parallel security forces and unregistered detention centres outside the supervision of the government.
A bill introduced by Khatami and approved by parliament to allow the president to remove errant judges has been blocked by the 12-man Guardian Council watchdog body, which said it did not comply with Islamic Sharia law.
Some 350 reformist intellectuals urged Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday to end repression and free political prisoners, saying in a letter the Islamic Republic had to choose between democracy and despotism.
Pro-reform journalist and former deputy Culture Minister Issa Saharkhiz, whose office distributed the letter to the media, was arrested on unspecified charges, his office said.