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The Iranian judiciary continues to delay investigations into the role of its agents in the death of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, Human Rights Watch said today.

Zahra Kazemi died in July 2003, a few days after Iranian security forces detained her at Tehran’s Evin prison for photographing in a restricted area in front of the same prison. She was arrested under the authority of the chief prosecutor of Tehran, Saeed Mortazavi, who is a high-ranking member of the judiciary and is implicated in numerous human rights violations.

On May 16, an appeals court was convened at the request of lawyers representing Kazemi’s family to identify those responsible for her death in custody. The Iranian Students News Agency reported that the presiding judge prevented reporters from entering the court room and closed the hearing to the public. When the family’s lawyers protested the judge’s decision, the judge ended the hearing without addressing any of the lawyer’s objections to the closure. The next day, the judiciary’s spokesman, Jamal Karimi-Rad, told reporters that the court would reconvene on July 25.

“Almost two years have passed since Kazemi’s death, yet the judiciary continues to find reasons to avoid establishing criminal responsibility for her killing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These delays only further discredit the public’s faith that the Iranian judiciary will conduct a full and fair investigation of this matter.”

An investigation into Kazemi’s death by a parliamentary committee in October 2003 reported that Kazemi’s death resulted from a severe blow to her head while she was in the custody of Iranian authorities. The report did not identify those responsible for Kazemi’s death.

The judiciary charged a low-ranking official from the Intelligence Ministry, Reza Ahmadi, of unintentionally killing her in the course of her interrogation. Despite strong protests from the Intelligence Ministry, in July the judiciary proceeded with a hastily organized trial. Stating that it lacked sufficient evidence, it cleared Ahmadi of the murder charges against him. On December 22, lawyers for the Kazemi family protested the failure of the court to convict anyone of wrongdoing and asked for a criminal investigation. The recent appeals court hearing was convened to address this request.

“The Iranian judiciary must bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice,” said Whitson. “Neither the international community nor the Iranian public will allow this case to be covered up.”

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