TORONTO – A Canadian photojournalist was beaten, tortured and raped before she died two years ago while in custody in Iran, a former Iranian army doctor who examined her said Thursday.
Shahram Azam said he examined Zahra Kazemi, a 54-year-old Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, in a military hospital in Tehran on June 26, 2003, and noticed horrific injuries to her entire body that could only have been caused by torture and rape. It was just days after she was arrested for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy.
Azam recently received political asylum in Canada.
Azam examined Kazemi in the emergency room after she was transferred from Tehran’s Evin prison. Reading from notes taken from the examination, Azam said Kazemi arrived unconscious with bruises all over her body.
She had a skull fracture, two broken fingers, missing fingernails, a crushed big toe and a smashed nose. She also had deep scratches on the neck and evidence of flogging on the legs and back.
“As a doctor I could see this was caused by torture,” Azam said through an interpreter.
He said as a male doctor in a military hospital, he was barred from examining a woman’s genitals, but the nurse who did so told him of “brutal damage.”
Prison officials sent her to the hospital saying she was suffering digestive problems and had vomited blood. Azam concluded that the blood had poured down her throat from her smashed nose.
Iranian officials have said she died after she went on a hunger strike, fainted and struck her head as she fell.
The authorities have at various times acknowledged that Kazemi was killed by state security officers, but the official explanation is unchanged.
A secret agent was brought to trial and was acquitted. But lawyers for Kazemi’s mother said the proceedings were flawed. They also said it was a prison official, not the agent, who delivered the fatal blow.
Iran-Canada relations, soured by the slaying and subsequent burial in Iran against the wishes of Kazemi’s son in Canada, further deteriorated after Iran refused to allow Canadian observers to attend the trial. Relations were strained further when the Canadian ambassador was not allowed to attend the last session of the open trial.
Canada withdrew its ambassador in July in protest. A new ambassador has since been sent to Tehran.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew condemned Iran on Thursday for not holding a legitimate trial.
“The Iranian justice system has failed in every instance so far. Iran is failing basic human rights and to Canada this situation must stop,” Pettigrew said. “This new evidence, while gruesome, simply reinforces our position that this was not an accident. The family needs answers, Canadians want answers and we will not stop pursuing this case until justice is rendered.”
Azam, a former major in the Iranian security force, arrived in Canada on Monday. He fled Iran last fall with his wife and daughter under the guise of seeking medical treatment.
Officials from Canada’s Foreign Affairs and Immigration departments interviewed him in Sweden in November and fast-tracked his request for refugee status.
Marlys Edwardh, the family’s attorney, said Azam’s recollections match the description given by the woman’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, said he would not rest until he finds justice for what happened.
“I’m continuing what my mother has started by standing up to the Iranian regime,” he said.
Edwardh said they have asked Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to press the Iranian government for a full criminal investigation of the case.
Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said Iran’s standing in the international community is now on trial.
“The Kazemi case is a case study of whether Iran is finally going to come clean, become accountable and show that it is a citizen of the international community,” Cotler said. “If they don’t respond properly and accountably in this instance than they will expose themselves for all the world to see as an outlaw nation.”
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