by Yule Heibel on March 31, 2005

In the spring of 2003, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi left for Iran. On June 23, 2003, she was arrested while taking photographs outside Evin prison in Tehran during student-led protests. On By July 11, 2003 it was known she died was dead — supposedly from hitting her head when she fell “accidentally.”

July 10, 2004: The Canadian government hasn’t done enough to solve the mysterious death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, killed a year ago while in the custody of Iranian police, her son said Friday while attending a memorial celebration in her honour.

July 25, 2004: Stephan Hachemi rejects $12,000 in compensation for his mother’s death from the Iranian government, calling it “blood money.”

July 27, 2004: Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, meets with Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew, but doesn’t get a commitment for action from Ottawa. “The minister failed me and failed to have my mother’s rights respected,” he says.

And now there’s this, as reported in today’s Toronto Star by John Ward: Kazemi brutally tortured, MD says. Read the article carefully. The only person who comes across as upright and forthright is Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi. The politicians — all of them — sound at times idiotic, helpless, or deceitful, while the Iranian doctor (a military doctor) sounds self-serving and sly: he is quoted as follows: “It was the first time I saw a patient brought in from a prison,” he said. “It was so shocking for me.” This sounds hard to credit, coming from a military doctor who worked in a hospital. I guess he wants the asylum, and he should get it as far as I’m concerned, but will justice be done for Zahra Kazemi and her son? The Star wants readers to log in, etc., so let’s skip that — here’s the article, in full:

OTTAWA — A doctor’s “gruesome” account of injuries he found on Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi only reinforces Canada’s belief that the woman was murdered in Iran, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said today.

“We know that she was murdered and not the victim of an accident,” the minister said in Toronto.

Canada has not given up on the case and will enlist international support against Iran, Pettigrew added.

“We will be continuing to work with the international community, put the pressure on Iran so that they render justice,” he said.

Stockwell Day, the Tory foreign affairs critic, suggested the recall of Canada’s ambassador and the imposition of sanctions, but Pettigrew wasn’t enthusiastic. Canada needs an ambassador in Tehran to keep the pressure on, he said.

“I don’t believe much in individual or bilateral sanctions but this is the kind of thing that we can discuss with the international community.”

Alexa McDonough, the NDP foreign affairs critic, said the government must pursue “new measures” to see justice done.

“It must be open with Canadians and Ms. Kazemi’s family as to the nature of these measures, be they direct measures with Iran, within the United Nations or both,” she said.

Refugee doctor Shahram Azam, formerly with the Iranian military, spoke with clinical coolness at an Ottawa news conference earlier today, methodically listing a tally of bruises, broken bones and other injuries he found on Kazemi. These could only have been the result of the deliberate torture and rape, he said.

Kazemi, 54, an Iranian-born dual citizen, was arrested after taking pictures outside a prison in Tehran in June 2003.

Speaking through an interpreter, Azam recounted in a matter-of-fact way how Kazemi was brought into his Tehran hospital unconscious and on a stretcher on June 27, 2003, four days after her arrest.

Azam, a former major in the Iranian security force, arrived in Canada on Monday. He fled Iran last summer with his wife and daughter under the guise of seeking medical treatment.

Officials from the Foreign Affairs and Immigration departments interviewed him in Sweden in November and fast-tracked his claim for refugee status.

Reading from notes he said he made when he examined Kazemi, Azam said he found horrendous injuries, ranging from a broken nose and finger bones to head and body bruises, a ruptured ear drum, lash marks, torn-off fingernails and toenails and feet beaten blue.

He said as a male doctor in a military hospital, he was banned from examining a woman’s genitals, but the nurse who did so told him of “brutal damage.”

“As a doctor, I could see this was caused by torture,” Azam said.

Iranian officials have said she died after she went on a hunger strike, fainted and struck her head as she fell.

“This was not an accident,” Pettigrew scoffed.

Azam recited his findings in a calm, detached manner, gesturing to describe the location of some of the worst bruises.

He said a CAT scan that night showed bleeding in the brain and he learned the next day his patient was brain dead. The incident shook him.

“It was the first time I saw a patient brought in from a prison,” he said. “It was so shocking for me.”

He said he had to come forward to tell his story freely because “I am a human being.”

Marlys Edwardh, lawyer for the family, said Azam’s recollections match the description given by the women’s mother, who was allowed to briefly view the body in the hospital.

She said his account also makes it clear the Iranian government has lied about the case from the start.

Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, who has kept his mother’s case in the public eye for months, watched expressionless from the audience as Azam delivered his grisly findings.

Hachemi kept his emotions under tight rein as he said he’s disappointed with the Canadian government’s lack of progress in getting justice for his mother.

“I’m continuing what my mother has started by standing up to the Iranian regime,” he said.

Edwardh said the family wants Prime Minister Paul Martin to press Iran for a full criminal investigation of the case. Iran put a low-ranking official on trial last year, but he was acquitted after a hearing that was seen as a sham.

Edwardh said the government should press for international mediation and compensation for Kazemi’s family.

Pettigrew said officials will meet the family’s lawyers to discuss all options.

“The family needs answers, Canadians want answers and we will not stop pursuing this case until justice is rendered,” he said.

Martin, who said his officials will meet Hachemi, condemned the Iranian behaviour.

“By any standard, this is simply unacceptable.”

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said in Montreal that his officials are looking at what actions Canada might pursue.

“We’re going to look at the legal options that are available to the Canadian government,” he said.

Hachemi said all Canadians have a stake in his mother’s case.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s not a personal matter, it’s a national matter, it’s an international matter.”


maria April 2, 2005 at 2:29 am

I don’t know much about the Toronto Star, but I was struck by the way this piece you quoted built to that one conclusion with which few American publications would leave their readers. That is, going from the personal to the political, as its destination … rather than the other way around.

Kate S. April 2, 2005 at 8:38 pm

Blech, this shit makes me sick at my stomach. It never says who the torturers were … I’m afraid to ask. At that time, the U.S. forces were in there also. I hope this wasn’t a case of torture over a scarf, or … film.

“Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said in Montreal that his officials are looking at what actions Canada might pursue.”

Dig the passive tense. What they “might” pursue.

Yule Heibel April 5, 2005 at 1:12 am

The Toronto Star is quite good, Maria. The site does require registration, but it’s only a name & email address — no money (yet!) — and definitely worth it. I agree that there’s something a bit different about how TorStar takes an issue from the personal to the political (while in more mainstream or more demagogically inclined presses, it’s the other way around). My local paper, the victoria times-colonist, on the other hand, tends to try to emulate the reverse (well, what can you expect with a name like that?).

I appreciated the covereage that TorStar had of the Terri Schiavo fiasco, too. There was an excellent article called, I think, “what’s going on in her head,” or something to that effect, and it quite clinically adumbrated the medical facts: that brain tissue had been broken down by the body (necrotic processes), and replaced by spinal fluid, and so on. It didn’t say anything about whether she was alive or not, in a PVS or not, just that this-and-that had actually clinically/ medically happened in her head, and then let the reader decide where to fall on the issue of keeping Mrs. Schiavo artificially alive. I.e., if one insists on keeping this person alive, what exactly is one keeping alive? And why are people with no stake in the personal relationships that the real Mrs. Schiavo had with her family (including her husband) getting mixed up in what is (was) essentially a private decision?

Kate, the passive voice is one of my biggest betes noir! Don’t you just love it when “they” say stuff like, “a loss of life occurred”? I do, however, have to emphasise that this time our friendly Washington government, nor its Pentagon minions (or is it the other way around?) had nothing to do with this. We’re talking about Iran, not Iraq, and those guys are doing their own shit, for sure. It’s still shit, though.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: