Urgent call for an international investigative commission on the death of Mrs. Kazemi

18/07/2003
Press release
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The situation takes a very disturbing turn for the worse serious development of arbitrary practices
Request for the immediate suspension of the Teheran Public Prosecutor

FIDH and LDDHI are deeply shocked at the news of the circumstances of the death in detention of Mrs. Zahra Kazemi, an Irano-Canadian photographer. Mrs. Zahra Kazemi was arrested on 23 June 2003 by men in plain clothes belonging to the militia which, under the direction of the Teheran Public Prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, had arrested student leaders and journalists and carried out acts of violence during the student demonstrations. She was transferred to prison 359, belonging to the intelligence department of the Pastaran (Guardians of the Revolution). The day after her arrest, the Teheran Public Prosecutor ordered Mrs Kazemi’s domicile be searched by the police.

On 27 June 2003, Mrs. Kazemi was transferred, while in a coma, to the Baghiatollah military hospital. She died shortly afterwards; the official cause of death was first given to be a cerebro-vascular accident.

On 13 July 2003, President Khatami ordered four of his ministers to investigate the circumstances of her death. On 16 July the Iranian Vice-President, Mohammed Ali Abtahi, issued a public statement on the first results of the enquiry, recognising that death was the result of a brain haemorrhage caused by head blows received by Mrs. Kazemi.

It is not known at present what has happened to her body; conflicting reports are rumoured concerning her burial.

FIDH and LDDHI are extremely concerned at this information, especially as several dozen student leaders and journalists were arrested at the same time as Mrs. Kazemi, and by the same militia. Their place of detention is not known. In addition, out of the 4,000 held for questioning following the demonstrations held last June and the beginning of July, nearly 2,000 people are currently detained, in violation of the rules of international law. FIDH and LDDHI have good reason to fear that those persons are subjected to ill-treatment, and that their detention is arbitrary.

FIDH and LDDHI therefore call for the immediate organisation of an independent and impartial international investigative mission, composed of experts in forensic medicine and jurists, with the task of elucidating the circumstances of Mrs. Kazemi’s death.

The mission should also assess the individual responsibilities surrounding the death of Mrs. Kazemi, and order that proceedings be initiated against those persons identified as being responsible before independent and impartial courts. The mission should bring in the Special United Nations Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, whose visit, which had initially been authorised, was postponed sine die by the Iranian authorities.

Furthermore FIDH and LDDHI issue an immediate call for the suspension of the Teheran Public Prosecutor, Mr. Said Mortazavi, and for the opening of an investigation against him for his responsibility in the perpetration of acts of torture, owing to his role as the head of the militia who have spread terror, beaten and abducted demonstrators and student leaders and journalists, and to his position of authority over the detention centres belonging to the Guardians of the Revolution, where Mrs. Kazemi was allegedly tortured.

His past history is alas well known: the Special Representative of the United Nations for Iran, Mr. Copithorne, had already recognised that Mr. Mortazavi had been responsible for newspapers being closed down in 2000, for the wave of arrests of journalists and publishers, for the arrest of intellectuals who participated in a meeting in Berlin, and for the arrest of lawyers for facts related to the legitimate exercise of their profession when acting for the defence. His recent appointment as Public Prosecutor for Teheran was, for the same reasons, recently dubbed “regrettable and questionable” by the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention, in the report of their visit to Iran.

Lastly, FIDH and LDDHI demand that the student leaders, journalists and the roughly 2,000 persons still detained in unknown places be immediately released, in view of the arbitrary nature of their detention. If for some of them the charges were liable to be upheld, FIDH and LDDHI request that they be guaranteed the right to a fair trial, and that their conditions of detention be in accordance with relevant international and regional standards.

Finally FIDH and LDDHI issue an appeal to the International Community and to the Italian Presidency of the European Union, in particular in the framework of its dialogue with Iran on Human Rights; that they exercise firm pressure to ensure that these recommendations be put into effect without further delay.

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