July 25, 2003

Ottawa recalls ambassador after Iran buries Kazemi

OTTAWA — Angry Canadian officials say they are considering an array of political and economic measures to protest against the burial of Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Iran.These could include trade sanctions and travel restrictions on Iranian business people and students wanting to come to Canada, government sources said yesterday.

"I think it is horrible what they have done," Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said, referring to the decision of Iranian religious authorities to ignore the demands of the federal government and Ms. Kazemi's son to return the journalist's body to Canada.

"I am very unhappy that they would take a journalist and kill a journalist. It is unacceptable and I protested very strongly, but there is nothing I can do to bring her back to life," Mr. Chrétien told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Ottawa will press Iran to exhume the body and release it to her son, Stephan Hachemi, for an independent autopsy and burial in Canada, the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said. Ottawa also wants Iran to hold a fair and transparent inquiry into Ms. Kazemi's death.

The Canadian ambassador to Iran, Philip MacKinnon, is being recalled for consultations to determine the most effective sanctions to impress upon the Iranians Canada's displeasure with the way the Kazemi case is being handled, Mr. Graham said.

Mr. MacKinnon is expected back in Ottawa tomorrow, and Iranian authorities should consider his recall as a prelude to sanctions or other measures, Mr. Graham said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Canadian officials should tone down their comments. Iran is determined to get to the bottom of the case, he said, and "hasty and irrational" remarks by Canadian officials can complicate the issue.

Ms. Kazemi, 54, a dual Canadian-Iranian national, was arrested last month while taking photos outside a Tehran prison where political dissidents have been jailed. She died in custody July 10 of a skull fracture resulting from what Iran's Vice-President said was a beating.

Despite Canadian protests, her body was buried yesterday near her birthplace in the southern city of Shiraz. State television carried footage of the coffin being carried from a mosque and placed in a grave. A large number of unidentified mourners were present.

Witnesses said a contingent of plainclothes security officers prevented Iranian journalists from talking with family members. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said "several state and local officials attended the funeral."

Federal officials say they believe they have some leverage with Iran. The theocratic regime has been trying to improve relations with Canada and the European Union to counter the tough line it faces from the U.S. administration, which has labelled it part of an "axis of evil."

Canada has refused to join a U.S. trade embargo against Iran. In fact, Iran has been one of Canada's major trading partners in the Middle East for several years. Typically, Iran buys Canadian wheat, and sells oil and other petroleum products. Two-way trade totalled more than $500-million last year.

Ottawa could deny Iran credit assistance for imports from Canada. Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation, backed business deals with Iran last year worth $156-million.

Mr. Graham said Canada is consulting European allies to see whether they would also impose sanctions against Iran.

He said Ottawa wants to support liberal elements in the Iranian power structure who he believes are trying to promote human rights and institute political reforms and will want to prosecute those responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death. He also said he was pleased that the investigation had been taken away from a state prosecutor and given to a military prosecutor.

The military has not been implicated in the journalist's death. However, chief state prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, who had originally assigned the case by the chief judge, was a suspect: He had been one of Ms. Kazemi's interrogators before she suffered the fatal blow to the head.

Mr. Mortazavi is notorious in Iran for his crackdown on journalists and newspapers that have criticized the regime.

Twenty-one journalists are in jail and could meet the same fate as Ms. Kazemi, Mohsen Kadivar of the Association for the Defence of the Freedom of the Press said in Tehran. The group called for a one-day national strike Aug. 8.

Mr. Hachemi, who has been tirelessly lobbying to get his mother's remains back to Canada, opted not to speak to the media yesterday.

"He is just overwhelmed, angry and exhausted. It's just all too much for him," said Tanya Churchmuch, president of the Canadian branch of Reporters Without Borders, who said she spoke with Mr. Hachemi early yesterday.

Ali Nourizadeh, an exiled Iranian journalist, said he had been told by several judicial sources in Tehran that Ms. Kazemi's mother had been pressured by Mr. Mortazavi to agree to bury her daughter immediately.

"She was told she wouldn't be able to travel to Canada and see her grandson. Also, there were other threats against her and other close relatives," Mr. Nourizadeh said.

Mr. Nourizadeh said he had been told it was Mr. Mortazavi who kicked Ms. Kazemi in the head after she refused to say she was a spy.

Nader Hashemi, a Middle East specialist at the University of Toronto, said "the nature of the Iranian political system is such that there are effectively two governments, the normal government and the hard-line clerics who are not accountable to popular pressure and who control the judiciary."

E-mail this Article Search Web for Related Information Print this Article

July 25, 2003 12:40 AM

advertise at nourizadeh . com