IHRDC takes action in the case of Zahra Kazemi before the Supreme Court of Canada
(December 10, 2013) – As part of its ongoing effort to combat impunity in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) is acting as an intervener in the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was tortured to death in Evin prison in 2003. The case is currently being litigated before the Supreme Court of Canada and on November 18, 2013, IHRDC filed a factum—or legal brief—that addresses the issue of whether a fair hearing is available to the Kazemi family in the IRI. A copy of IHRDC’s filing is available here.
“For the past decade, Iranian officials have evaded responsibility for Zahra Kazemi’s tragic death through a series of moves designed to shield officials from accountability, including a sham trial of lower ranking officials as scapegoats and denial of the family’s requests for an independent autopsy of her remains,” said Gissou Nia, executive director of IHRDC. “Now that the case has come before Canada’s Supreme Court, the proceedings serve as a reminder to Iranian officials that they cannot escape the long arm of the law within a global justice framework if they order or are complicit in serious crimes,” she added.
The case was initially brought by Kazemi’s son as a civil suit in Montreal against the IRI and three individual Iranian officials including the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; Tehran’s Chief Public Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi who allegedly ordered Kazemi’s arrest; and the Deputy Chief of Intelligence of Evin Prison, Mohammad Bakhshi, who allegedly assaulted and tortured Kazemi.
At the lower court, the case was dismissed on the basis that the alleged perpetrators were immune from suit under Canada’s State Immunity Act—which shields foreign governments from civil suit absent certain circumstances. The case was ultimately granted review by the Supreme Court of Canada on an argument set forth by the Kazemi estate that immunity should not be granted to state actors in cases of torture.
Kazemi was arrested in Tehran in 2003 while taking photos of Iranian protesters near a prison. During her detention, Kazemi was subjected to extreme physical abuse and alleged sexual violence that resulted in internal bleeding, hospitalization and, ultimately, death. Throughout this ordeal Iranian officials denied Kazemi access to her family and initially failed to contact Canadian consular officials. Although the IRI tried some officials accused of complicity in Kazemi’s death in 2004, none of the alleged perpetrators were convicted and to date no one has been held accountable for her death. The Iranian government also failed to return her remains to her family for an independent autopsy and burial of their choosing.
Since Kazemi’s untimely death, IHRDC has continued to track and report developments in her case and her family’s pursuit of justice. In 2006, IHRDC released a comprehensive report detailing Kazemi’s plight and investigating the circumstances surrounding her death. In November 2007, IHRDC welcomed the news that Iran’s Supreme Court had reopened Kazemi’s case. IHRDC has continued to follow the progress of the investigation into Kazemi’s case by Canadian courts.
The date of the hearing for Kazemi’s case at the Supreme Court of Canada is set for March 18, 2014. The text of the factum filed in the proceedings follows below.