Iran to Investigate Journalist's Death

Zahra Kazemi was not the first journalist to die for her job in Iran. Nor is she the first to die of beatings while in state custody.

Iran to Investigate Journalist's Death

Zahra Kazemi was not the first journalist to die for her job in Iran. Nor is she the first to die of beatings while in state custody. But the case of Kazemi - a dual citizen of Iran and Canada - has focused world attention on the stifling of free speech and the tension between Iran's reformist government and the ultimate power of the conservative mullahs. A photographer whose lens captured the hard reality of the disenfranchised throughout the Islamic world, her death has left a portrait of Iran in the same frame.

The Montreal-based photojournalist was arrested on June 23 while taking pictures of protestors outside Evin prison near Tehran. In custody, she died of a fractured skull. Early official reports said that she'd suffered a stroke. Then authorities suggested the 54-year-old fell or hit her head. Finally, after political pressure from Canada increased, Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi admitted Kazemi had been beaten, possibly with a shoe, while being questioned by the security force loyal to the hard-line clerics. In Montreal, her son, Stephan Hachemi, demanded his mother's body be returned to Canada, but its whereabouts are still in dispute.

Kazemi's death highlights the recent crackdown on dissent in Iran. In the last month alone, more than 4,000 were arrested. Struggling to appease the international community and stay in power, President Mohammad Khatami ordered an investigation into Kazemi's death. The world will now be watching, with the same passionate scrutiny Kazemi brought to her own subjects.

Maclean's July 28, 2003