Statement on 10th Anniversary of Kazemi Murder in Iran

July 11, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:

“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my sincere condolences to Ms. Zahra Kazemi’s family and friends on this difficult day.

“Her memory strengthens our resolve to seek long-awaited justice in her case. It reminds us of all those still languishing as political prisoners in Iranian jails and compels us to keep exerting pressure on the regime in Tehran to take concrete steps to address the egregious state of human rights in Iran and to face the Iranian people’s desire for change.”

A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder – Kazemi Case

On June 23, 2003, Zahra Kazemi was arrested for taking photos outside of Evin Prison in Tehran. According to an Iranian government report, Ms. Kazemi was interrogated by a variety of security officials for approximately 77 hours following her arrest. Four days later, Ms. Kazemi was admitted to the Baghiatollah hospital in Tehran. Family members in Iran were not notified of her hospitalization by Iranian authorities until several days later. At that time, family members in Iran contacted the Canadian embassy, seeking help. Consular officials from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada visited Ms. Kazemi in the hospital three times over the next several days and sought information surrounding the circumstances that led to her injuries and hospitalization.

On July 11, 2003, 18 days after her arrest for simply taking photographs, Ms. Kazemi died as a result of the injuries she sustained while in custody. Two days later, under pressure from Canada, Iran’s president announced a ministerial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Kazemi’s death. On July 16, Canada’s prime minister called for a transparent investigation into Ms. Kazemi’s death and for those responsible to be brought to justice. Reports indicate that Ms. Kazemi was buried later that month in her home town of Shiraz, against the wishes of her son in Montréal. The Canadian ambassador to Iran was recalled to Canada.

In the fall of 2003, Canada sponsored a resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning human rights abuses in Iran. Canada has subsequently led in sponsoring this resolution every year since. The sponsoring of this resolution is one of many multilateral interventions Canada has engaged in regarding Iran’s human rights record and the case of Ms. Kazemi.

In the summer of 2004, the Iranian official charged in Ms. Kazemi’s death was tried and acquitted. Iran’s judiciary stated that her death was the result of an accident. Canada’s ambassador was again recalled, to protest Iran’s decision to bar Canadians from observing the trial. In April 2005, the Iranian judiciary rejected Canadian demands that Ms. Kazemi’s body be returned to Canada and that an independent autopsy be performed, arguing that Ms. Kazemi was Iranian and that only the Iranian judiciary had jurisdiction in the case. The following month, Canada tightened its controlled engagement policy with Iran by limiting contact with Iranian officials to four issues: the case of Zahra Kazemi, human rights in Iran, Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s regional role.

For the last 10 years, Canadian prime ministers, foreign affairs ministers, ambassadors and officials have pressed Iranian authorities to conduct a credible investigation into Ms. Kazemi’s murder and to hold those responsible to account. The Iranian regime has instead continually made excuses, lied and taken steps to obscure the truth about Ms. Kazemi’s murder. Furthermore, reports persist of torture and abuse in Iran’s prisons and detention facilities.

One of the lawyers that represented Ms. Kazemi’s family after her murder, Abdolfattah Soltani, was arrested after criticizing the Iranian authorities’ investigation into her death. He is currently being held in detention in Iran for his continuing courageous efforts to defend human rights in that country. Canada continues to call for justice for victims of the regime’s abuses.