Tehran, July 23 (Reuters): A Canadian journalist who died in custody in Tehran was buried today against the wishes of both her son and Ottawa, which announced it was withdrawing its ambassador to Iran and mulling further sanctions.
Zahra Kazemi died on July 10 after she was arrested for taking pictures outside a prison in Tehran.
. A government inquiry into her death said she had died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a severe blow to the head.
State television showed images of Kazemi's coffin being carried out of a mosque in the city of Shiraz, southern Iran, where she was born. A witness told Reuters that flowers were piled on the mound of earth at the freshly dug grave.
Despite calls from the European Union and Canada for Iran to prosecute those responsible for her death, officials in the Islamic Republic have yet to say how exactly Kazemi died.
Canada Ä which insists the body be returned to Kazemi's home city of Montreal Ä condemned the burial and said ambassador Philip MacKinnon was being recalled.
”It is a form of protest which is very (much) noticed in diplomatic terms,” said Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
”I'm very unhappy that...they killed a journalist. It's unacceptable and I protested very strongly,” he told reporters.
Foreign Minister Bill Graham said MacKinnon would be back by Friday for discussions about the state of bilateral ties and what other sanctions might be imposed on Tehran.
Graham declined to say what Ottawa would do but played down the idea of expelling Iranian diplomats.
Kazemi's case has sparked a major political row in Iran, with reformist allies of President Mohammad Khatami saying it highlighted the operation of shadowy security services outside the government's control.
Reformists have used Kazemi's death to criticize officials in the judiciary who they accuse of waging an implacable campaign against the media and of violating human rights.
”We want to help Mr. Khatami Ä who wants to get to the bottom of this Ä deal with this against the conservatives in his country who are taking another attitude,” Graham said.
Iranian state media said Kazemi had been buried in Iran in accordance with her mother's wishes.
But Kazemi's son, who lives in Canada, said on Tuesday his 75-year-old grandmother had told him she was“forced” by Iranian authorities to authorize the burial in Iran.
While the death of a journalist in custody is believed to be unprecedented in Iran, scores of liberal newspapers have been closed down and many journalists imprisoned by the judiciary in the past three years.
In a new twist to the case, the judiciary said the office of Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi had decided it was not competent to lead the investigation into Kazemi's death and had passed the case on to the Military Court. Canada's Graham welcomed the news as positive.
Reformists had criticized the judiciary's initial choice of Mortazavi, saying he was unfit to lead the probe since he had been involved in Kazemi's initial detention and questioning.
The Military Court normally handles cases regarding the armed forces and a legal expert said it might also rule itself unfit to handle the case. If that happens, it could be sent to the Supreme Court, the expert said.