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IHRDC makes oral submissions in Zahra Kazemi case

IHRDC makes oral submissions in case involving murder of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist; result could open door for redress for other victims and survivors of torture

(April 23, 2014) – Last month, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) made oral submissions in support of its intervention before the Supreme Court of Canada in Estate of the Late Zahra (Ziba) Kazemi, et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al. The case involved the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian who was arrested and tortured in the summer of 2003. The submissions, heard on March 18, 2014, presented the argument that Kazemi’s son and her estate could not avail themselves of a fair trial in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

The Supreme Court of Canada will issue their decision in the coming months; a favorable outcome could have major implications for Kazemi’s son Stephan Hashemi and for similarly-situated individuals. A positive decision could remove the shield of sovereign immunity in cases of torture in Canadian courts, thereby allowing individuals like Kazemi’s son and other victims and survivors of torture to bring claims against their perpetrators whereas previously they would have no recourse.

On the other hand, a decision to uphold the application of sovereign immunity in this case would have the effect of barring the claims of Kazemi’s son and estate in Canadian courts, thereby denying them any remaining effective recourse, as IHRDC’s own reporting has established that they could not obtain a fair trial within the IRI’s judicial system.

“The quiet nature of the proceedings in this case belie what could yield a legal outcome that is nothing short of seismic, “ said Gissou Nia, executive director of IHRDC. “If the Supreme Court of Canada clears the path for the appellants in this case to bring their claim in Canada’s courts, it will strengthen the idea that victims of torture, even if denied domestically, can have their day in court.”

Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist and artist who was brutally tortured by Iranian authorities in the summer of 2003. Kazemi had visited Iran in 2003 for freelance photography work. On June 23, 2003, Kazemi was photographing individuals protesting outside Evin prison in Tehran. Kazemi was arrested and then, in the days that followed, interrogated, beaten, sexually assaulted and tortured, resulting in fatal injuries and her untimely death on July 10, 2003. For more information on Kazemi’s death see IHRDC’s report on the case, submitted to the Court by counsel for IHRDC, Impunity in Iran: The Death of Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

When Kazemi’s family realized they could not secure justice for her death in the IRI’s courts, Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hashemi, brought a civil proceeding before the Superior Court of Quebec and the Quebec Court of Appeal seeking redress in the matter. The Iranian authorities, the respondents in this case, brought a motion to dismiss the claim on the grounds that the action was barred due to the principle of sovereign immunity which shields foreign governments from civil suit absent circumstances enumerated in Canada’s Sovereign Immunity Act. Stephen Hashemi and the estate, the appellants, countered with a constitutional challenge alleging that the principle of sovereign immunity as enshrined in the Act should not be applied in cases of torture. 

IHRDC filed a factum as an intervener before the Supreme Court of Canada to submit that if the Sovereign Immunity Act were applied to bar the current action in Canadian courts, the appellants would not be afforded the right to a fair hearing in an Iranian court.

This point was made clear during oral submissions by counsel representing IHRDC in the intervention, who relied on IHRDC’s Kazemi 2006 report as well as the March 2014 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to demonstrate the lack of judicial safeguards in the IRI’s legal system.

To watch the full video of the March 18, 2014 hearing, click here.

For more information, please contact:

Gissou Nia

Executive Director

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Email: GNia@iranhrdc.org

Phone: +1 203 654 9342

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Free Speech, Right to Protest