A Tehran court acquitted the only defendant charged in Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi’s death in custody, and ruled that since the killer has not been identified, the state should pay damages to the victim’s family. July 24, 2004 - A Tehran court today acquitted Mohammad-Reza Aqdam Ahamdi, an intelligence ministry agent who was the only man charged with murdering Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.
The ruling, which came after the court last Saturday abruptly ended the proceeding on the second day of the trial, ended the victim’s family hopes for prosecution of the real perpetrators of the murder.
Kazemi died in July 2003 from brain hemorrhage, which a presidential probe said was caused by a blow to her head during interrogation at the Evin prison, to which she had been taken for photographing prisoners’ families gathered outside.
After acquitting the intelligence ministry interrogator, the court said since Kazemi’s killer cannot be identified, the government must compensate her survivors with her blood money, as set forth by Islamic rules. The average compensation paid to relatives of a murdered Muslim man is about $24,800.
The payment is half that if the victim was a woman.
News that Iranian interrogator Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi’s acquittal outraged Kazemi's family, the family’s legal team, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well human rights activists in Iran and Canada, who had championed her cause during the past year.
“The verdict announced in Iran today comes as no surprise to me or my lawyers,” Kazemi’s Montreal-based son, Stephan Hachemi, 26, said in a written statement.
“The only justice we have come to expect from Iran is injustice,” he said, adding Canada must take the case to the International Court of Justice.
“Of course I don’t need to remind you that this case, besides being a case of illegal arrest and imprisonment, is a case of torture, and a case of cover-up: high Iranian officials among the government are implicated,” Hachemi said.
“I'm required to work until my last breath to make sure that justice is done to my client," she said from Tehran, adding an appeal was still possible,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who led the four-member legal team, told reporters.
“I'll protest this verdict. If the appeals court and other legal stages fail to heed our objections, we will use all domestic and international facilities to meet the legal rights of my client,” she added.
Kazemi's mother, Ezzat Kazemi, has already refused money, tearfully telling the court she only wanted "revenge" for those who had broken her daughter's fingers, burned her breast and tortured her.
The Kazemi family and many observers believed the acquitted man was a scapegoat, a secondary figure who was charged to shield higher officials.
He had pleaded innocent and said it was clear that Kazemi was not a spy, as the Iranian authorities initially charged.
The judge never accepted the Kazemi family's attempts to present evidence during the trial that Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi was present during Kazemi’s interrogation.
The judge, Hossein Shahrabi Farahani, also ignored charges that the fatal blow to Kazemi's head, which left her unable to walk and led to a fatal coma, came from judiciary official Mohammad Bakhshi. Neither Mortazavi nor Bakhshi have been charged in the crime.