by: Fareshteh Ghazi
There are currently five open cases against Tehran’s Former Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi; however, after 14 years he has still not been charged for the death of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died while in custody as a result of his treatment by the prison authorities.
The charges against Mortazavi range from complicity in the death of detainees under torture in Kahrizak Prison during his tenure as Tehran Prosecutor, to corruption charges relating to the time he took over the Social Security Fund office. However, Shirin Ebadi, counsel for the family of Zahra Kazemi explains that the judiciary has refused to proceed against Mortazavi as a party in Zahra Kazemi’s death.
Zahra Kazemi was arrested in 22 June 2003 while she was taking photos of a group of families of prisoners congregating in front of Evin Prison. On 10 July 2002 she was pronounced dead in Tehran’s Azam Hospital. Ten days later, Mohsen Armin, deputy head of the sixth parliament and a member of its National Security and Foreign Policy Commission pointed the finger at Saeed Mortazavi and said: “Judge Mortazavi does not have the discretion to take such actions.”
Armin warned parliament that its silence against such “arbitrary and irresponsible actions” will encourage and promote them” and “destroy all credibility of the system and the Revolution”.
Armin’s warnings fell on deaf ears until Mortazavi resorted to his old ways in the course of the election protests to the controversial victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Issuance of Arrest Warrants for Zahra Kazemi and Kahrizak Detainees
Zahra Kazemi was arrested and beaten in front of Evin Prison while shooting photos. The report read in parliament indicates that Mortazavi goes on to issue her formal arrest warrant. “Two days later for unknown reasons, he [Mortazavi] hands her over to security forces. There she reports that while being interrogated at the prosecutor’s office she was beaten severely, especially in the head.
The same afternoon Kazemi is returned to the prosecutor’s office and after some hours Judge Mortazavi calls on the Ministry of Intelligence to come and collect her. Ministry officials respond that there is no need for her arrest and that she can return to her home and ministry officials will question her at her home later. But Judge Mortazavi insists on a handover.”
Six years after Zahara Kazemi’s murder, a group of election protesters are detained in Tehran after the 2009 election. Prosecutor Mortazavi issues the order for their transfer to Kahrizak Prison. Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam Head of Security Forces at that time reports that Mortazavi insisted on the transfer despite reminders that Kahrizak was already over capacity.
Ministry of Intelligence reportedly calls for the evacuation of Kahrizak and transfer of its detainees but Mortazavi disregards this order. Another order for the transfer of detainees is issued on the following day from the head of the National Security Council which is once again dismissed. Heeding either of those orders would have prevented the death of the prisoners, one defense lawyer stated in court.
From Zahra Kazemi’s Stroke to Meningitis Afflicting Kahrizak Detainees
On 26 June 26 2003, during interrogation Kazemi says she does not feel well and is transferred to the hospital. Around 6 am the following day her situation becomes critical. She goes into comma due to a brain hemorrhage and becomes brain dead.
The brain hemorrhage is due to a skull fracture. The parliamentary probe reports that Saeed Mortazavi once more steps beyond his jurisdiction, without consultation with the Minister of Culture and Guidance, summons the director general of the ministry’s foreign media department and tells him to sign a media release that after her arrest, Kazemi was sent to hospital because she expressed that she was not feeling well and died at hospital from a stroke.
Mortazavi then reportedly goes on to contact the state’s official news agency IRNA, to relay the media release.
Six years later on 14 July 2009 detainees of the election protests are moved from Kahrizak. From those, Amir Javadifar dies on route while Mohammad Kamrani and Mohsen Ruholamini die later in hospital.
Reports indicate that Saeed Mortazavi told a special parliamentary committee probing into the death that the cause of death was meningitis adding that immediate vaccination of all detainees was underway.
Further probe into the matter revealed that after the attending doctor and his superior refuse to sign off on meningitis as cause of death, Mortazavi dictated a letter to prison officers himself stating the cause of death as meningitis adding that the detainees had died in hospital and had no bruises indicating any form of abuse.
For the death of the Kahrizak detainees, Mortazavi was charged with “complicity in murder, participation in illegal arrests, assistance in filing false official reports”. For the latter two charges he was sentenced to a ban from any post in the judiciary and a five year ban from any public office. He was also sentenced to a fine of 200 thousand toumans. He was acquitted of the murder charge.
In the Zahra Kazemi case, Mortazavi faced no charges. Shirin Ebadi reports that one of the intelligence ministry officers was charged in the matter and he was in finality, acquitted of all charges.
Kazemi who had no siblings, had an elderly mother in Iran. Shirin Ebadi and other Human Rights Defenders Centre lawyers provide Kazemi’s mother with legal representation and manage to make the trial open to public.
At first the proceedings were attended by the Canadian ambassador and other international diplomats. Later the judge bars foreigners from entering court which Ebadi says was in violation of the law. Canadian Ambassador hence leaves the country and diplomatic relation between the two countries sour after that.
The Zahra Kazemi file was never closed however. Public perceptions regard Saeed Mortazavi as the true culprit but Shirin Ebadi says the case was never resolved and the court still owes the public a decision on this matter.