Zahra Kazemi

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Zahra Kazemi
Zahra Kazemi before arrest.jpg
Zahra Kazemi shown before her arrest.
DiedJuly 11, 2003(2003-07-11) (aged 55)
Cause of deathTorture
Resting place Shiraz, Iran
Nationality Iranian-Canadian
Citizenship Iran and Canada
Education University of Paris
Occupation Photojournalist
ChildrenStephan Hachemi (son)
Parent(s)Ezzat Kazemi (mother)
Awards Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award (2003)

Zahra "Ziba" Kazemi-Ahmadabadi (زهرا کاظمی احمدآبادی in Persian) (1948 – July 11, 2003) was an Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer, who according to the medical examiner was raped, tortured and killed by Iranian officials following her arrest in Iran.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Iran Country in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With over 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.

Canadians citizens of Canada

Canadians are people identified with the country of Canada. This connection may be residential, legal, historical or cultural. For most Canadians, several of these connections exist and are collectively the source of their being Canadian.


Although Iranian authorities insist that her death was accidental and that she died of a stroke while being interrogated, Shahram Azam, a former military staff physician who used his purported knowledge of Kazemi's case for seeking asylum in Canada in 2004, has stated that he examined Kazemi's body and observed that Kazemi showed obvious signs of torture, including a skull fracture, broken nose, signs of rape and severe abdominal bruising. [1]

Skull fracture break in one or more of the eight bones that form the cranial portion of the skull

A skull fracture is a break in one or more of the eight bones that form the cranial portion of the skull, usually occurring as a result of blunt force trauma. If the force of the impact is excessive, the bone may fracture at or near the site of the impact and cause damage to the underlying structures within the skull such as the membranes, blood vessels, and brain.

Rape type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse without consent

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.

Her death was the first time an Iranian's death in custody attracted major international attention. [2] Because of her dual citizenship and the circumstances of her death, she has since become an international cause célèbre. In November 2003, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression honoured Kazemi with the Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award in recognition of her courage in defending the right to free expression. [3]

A cause célèbre is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term continues in the media in all senses. It is sometimes used positively for celebrated legal cases for their precedent value and more often negatively for infamous ones, whether for scale, outrage, scandal or conspiracy theories.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is a Canadian non-governmental organization supported by Canadian journalists and advocates of freedom of expression. The purpose of the organization is to defend the rights of journalists and contribute to the development of press freedom throughout the world. CJFE recognizes that these rights are not confined to journalists and strongly supports and defends the broader objective of freedom of expression in Canada and around the world.

Tara Singh Hayer, OBC was an Indo-Canadian newspaper publisher who was murdered after reporting about terrorism and is recognized with provincial and national awards.

Life and death

Kazemi was born in Shiraz, Iran and moved to France in 1974 to study literature and cinema at the University of Paris. With her son, Stephan Hachemi, she immigrated to Montreal Quebec, Canada in 1993, where she later gained dual citizenship as an Iranian and Canadian national. She worked in Africa, Latin-America and the Caribbean and then more frequently in various Middle Eastern countries, including the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. She visited the latter two countries both prior and during the US occupation. Immediately prior to her travelling to Iran, Kazemi revisited Iraq, documenting the American occupation. Recurrent themes in her work were the documentation of poverty, destitution, forced exile and oppression, and also the strength of women in these situations.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Literature written work of art

Literature, most generically, is any body of written works. More restrictively, literature refers to writing considered to be an art form or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.

Film sequence of images that give the impression of movement

A film, also called a movie, motion picture, moving picture, or photoplay, is a series of still images that, when shown on a screen, create the illusion of moving images. This optical illusion causes the audience to perceive continuous motion between separate objects viewed in rapid succession. The process of filmmaking is both an art and an industry. A film is created by photographing actual scenes with a motion-picture camera, by photographing drawings or miniature models using traditional animation techniques, by means of CGI and computer animation, or by a combination of some or all of these techniques, and other visual effects.


Evin House of Detention, where Kazemi was arrested and held EvinHouseofDetention.jpg
Evin House of Detention, where Kazemi was arrested and held

Traveling back to her birth country using her Iranian passport, Kazemi was allowed into Iran to take photographs of the possible demonstrations that were expected to take place in Tehran in July 2003. The demonstrations took place and were effectively crushed after the sixth day by a massive deployment of security forces and paramilitary vigilantes, or "plainclothesmen." Following the clampdown, an estimated 4000 students "had gone missing" and were thought to have been arrested for protesting and taken to Evin prison, Tehran's political prisoner detention facility. As was customary after such events, family members of the missing gathered outside of Evin prison in north of Tehran in hopes of learning what had happened to their children. On June 23, 2003, Kazemi drove to the prison to take pictures of these family members, possessing a government-issued press card that she thought made it permissible for her to work around Tehran, including at Evin.

Tehran City in Iran

Tehran is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 8.7 million in the city and 15 million in the larger metropolitan area of Greater Tehran, Tehran is the most populous city in Iran and Western Asia, and has the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. It is ranked 24th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area.

According to Shirin Ebadi – an Iranian lawyer and former judge who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and later became the main representative of Kazemi's family at the trial over Kazemi's death – when a prison staff member saw Kazemi taking photographs he demanded that she give him her camera, as photography is prohibited in front of the prison.

Shirin Ebadi Iranian lawyer, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian political activist, lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On 10 October 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women's, children's, and refugee rights. She was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize, and thousands greeted her at the airport when she returned from Paris after receiving the news that she had won the prize. The response to the Award in Iran was mixed—enthusiastic supporters greeted her at the airport upon her return, the conservative media underplayed it, and then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami criticized it as political. Shirin Ebadi is a supporter of "maximum pressure" policy on Iran and has repeatedly called for Western sanctions against Iran. Ebadi is supportive of an oil-for-food program for Iran in which Iran can only receive food and drugs from outside.

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

Worried that officials might harass the families whose photos she had already taken, she flashed her press card and exposed the film to the light. The guard angrily yelled at her, ‘I didn't ask you to expose your film, I told you to give me your camera’ ‘You can have the camera’, she retorted, ‘but the film belongs to me.’ She was detained, and was interrogated over the next three days by police officers, prosecutors and intelligence officials. [4]

The Evin prison staff, whom the Kazemi family's lawyers consider a party in the beatings that led to Kazemi's death, say that she had been in a sensitive area, photographing parts of the prison. Several days after her arrest, hardline newspapers ran stories of her arrest "calling her a spy who had entered the country undercover as a journalist." [4]

Kazemi insisted that she did not photograph any part of the prison, only the street and the demonstrators, who were family members of activist students jailed in the prison.


On July 11, 2003, nineteen days after she was arrested, Kazemi died in Iranian custody in Baghiyyatollah al-Azam Military Hospital. Two days later, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported that Kazemi had suffered a stroke while she was being interrogated and died in hospital. [1] This account changed to one that Kazemi had died after falling and hitting her head. [4] On July 16, 2003, Iran's vice-president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, "conceded that Kazemi died as a result of being beaten". [1] Mohammad Ali Abtahi (Vice President of Legal Affairs) and Masoud Pezeshkian (Minister of Health and Medical Education) admitted that she died of a fractured skull as a result of being hit in the head. Abtahi claims that he was under a lot of pressure to take back the acknowledgement, but he resisted it.

Shirin Ebadi reports that security officials searched the house of an unnamed friend that Kazemi had been staying at, and "kept asking" her friend about Kazemi's "‘medical condition’ and what medicines she took daily." Officials also kept Kazemi's elderly, frail mother who had journeyed from Shiraz to see her only child, from seeing Kazemi until they had questioned her about what the medicines they insisted her daughter must be using. Kazemi's friend told Ebadi that she later realized this meant Kazemi was dead and the officials "wanted to claim that Ziba had a preexisting condition that had simply worsened in prison." [4]

The story did not become a major controversy until almost two years later, when Shahram Azam, a former staff physician in Iran's Defence Ministry, released a statement saying that he examined Kazemi in hospital four days after her arrest and found obvious signs of torture, including:

  • Evidence of a very brutal rape
  • A skull fracture, two broken fingers, missing fingernails, a crushed big toe and a broken nose.
  • Severe abdominal bruising, swelling behind the head and a bruised shoulder.
  • Deep scratches on the neck and evidence of flogging on the legs. [1]

One of the two Iranian intelligence agents charged with her death was acquitted in September 2003. The other agent, Mohammed Reza Aghdam-Ahmadi (محمدرضا اقدم احمدی), was charged with "semi-intentional murder" and his trial opened in Tehran in October 2003. In the same month, the Iranian parliament condemned Saeed Mortazavi, a Tehran prosecutor, for announcing that Kazemi had died of a stroke. On July 25, 2004, Aghdam-Ahmadi was acquitted.[ citation needed ]

Murder trial

Shirin Ebadi was the main representative of Kazemi's family at the trial, and represented them at the second and third sessions of Aghdam-Ahmadi's trial, which took place on July 17–18, 2004. In the court, Kazemi's mother mentioned that she wanted the real murderer to be prosecuted. She also mentioned that she saw Kazemi's body before the burial, upon which there were signs of torture.[ citation needed ]

Ebadi and the other lawyers of the family insisted in the court that they know that Kazemi was not killed by Aghdam-Ahmadi, and they need witnesses to be brought to the court in order to find the real murderer, who they guessed may be Mohammad Bakhshi, a high officer of the Evin prison. The list of witnesses they requested included Saeed Mortazavi, the general prosecutor of Tehran Mohsen Armin, reformist member of the previous parliament Hossein Ansari-Rad  [ fa ], Jamileh Kadivar, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, Minister of Intelligence Ali Younesi, the Vice President of Legal Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ahmad Masjedjamei, the five judges who were present during Kazemi's interrogation, a few employees of the Evin prison, the president of the Baghiyyatollah hospital, and all of the medical staff who had signed her file. Judge Farahani denied all of the requests. The lawyers also quoted the official report of death that various parts of Kazemi's body had been damaged and her clothes were torn and bloody, which proves that she had been tortured.[ citation needed ]

On July 14, 2004, the Iranian government rejected requests for Canadian government observers to attend the trial, despite promises and assurances by the Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and judiciary officials to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham. The same day, Graham recalled the ambassador at Tehran, Philip MacKinnon. MacKinnon, together with the Dutch ambassador (representing the European Union) and diplomats from the British and French embassies, were later allowed to attend the July 17 trial, though not the July 18 one. Judge Farahani was quoted on July 18 as saying that "(he) made a mistake yesterday. The bar is to show the world that Iran won't bow under pressure." Hamid Reza Assefi, the spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said "We hadn't permitted an observer from the beginning. But you should ask the reason for the ban from the court, there may have been a shortage of seats." Assefi also said that since Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Kazemi was an Iranian citizen who entered the country under an Iranian passport, never having requested her citizenship to be removed, that the case was clearly an internal affair.[ citation needed ]

The trial sessions ended on July 18, with the lawyers of the Kazemi family insisting that the time had not been enough for proofs to be given, witnesses to be brought to court, and the murderer to be identified. They also mentioned that the court didn't pay attention to their evidence. They refused to sign the session notes. The Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham, defined these events as "flagrant denial of due process".[ citation needed ]

On July 24, 2003, Judge Farahani issued his judgment, clearing Aghdam-Ahmadi of the charges. He also mentioned that since the murderer has not been found, according to the Islamic sources the blood money should be paid by the government to the family. The lawyers of Kazemi's family announced that they will appeal the case, asking for a criminal court to be established to reconsider the whole case, or completing the numerous incompletenesses of the file. They also mentioned that if the family asks, they will bring the case to the international authorities, mentioning Iran's 1954 signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The end of July saw Iran's judiciary adding "accidental fall" and "hunger strike" to the list of alleged causes for Kazemi's death. They claimed that Kazemi had gone on a hunger strike voluntarily, developed low blood pressure that made her dizzy, fell, and hit her head. Detractors point out that this story does not explain her broken bones, genital injuries or skin lacerations.[ citation needed ]

Timeline of events following Kazemi's death


In June 2005, an exhibition at the municipal Côte-Saint-Luc Library in Montreal of photos taken by Zahra Kazemi during her travels in Middle East was shut down following accusations by Jewish patrons of alleged "pro-Palestinian bias" for including five of her photographs on display that depicted scenes inside Palestinian refugee camps. Gallery officials proceeded to remove the five photographs while leaving the rest of the exhibition. In response, Kazemi's son, Stephen Hachemi, called the removal of the Palestinian photographs "a violation of my mother's spirit" and demanded that the library either display the entire collection or nothing at all. Eventually, the library closed the entire exhibition. [14]

Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Robert Libman told CBC news "It's a very complicated conflict, and to create an impression where the Palestinian cause is being martyred by oppression by the Israeli government, we don't consider that to be a fair portrait, in the future, such politically charged work won't be displayed at the library". Critics of the decision to take down the exhibition denounced it as "censorship". Naomi Klein and Aaron Maté wrote that it is "part of a disturbing pattern to silence opposition to the expansionist Israeli occupation of the Occupied Territories". According to the caption that accompanied the photo exhibition, she "illustrated the daily life of Palestinians and the problems they faced as they sought to preserve their land and their identity" in the face of "exodus, poverty, humiliation, suffering, and the ravages of war". [14]

Her life was one of the inspirations for the popular webcomic, Zahra's Paradise .

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 INDEPTH: ZAHRA KAZEMI "Iran's changing story" CBC News Online | Updated November 16, 2005 Retrieved 15/03/08 [ full citation needed ]
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  3. Memorial Award November 2003 ,
  4. 1 2 3 4 Ebadi, Iran Awakening, (2006), pp. 195-7
  5. Iran Admits its Security Forces Beat to Death an International Journalist; her Son Demands the Return of her Body to Canada 16 July 2003
  6. Zahra Kazemi Case Timeline, PEN Canada
  7. Montreal court hears lawsuit against Iranian government by son of photographer who was beaten to death, UN Refugee Agency 2 February 2009
  8. Impunity continues seven years after Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention, Reporters without Borders, 11 July 2010
  9. Seven years after Zahra Kazemi’s death in detention, impunity continues, IFEX 13 July 2010
  10. Iran death findings, BBC 26 August 2003
  11. Sanctions threat against Iran over Kazemi verdict,
  12. . Retrieved 2019-05-19.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. Iranian secret police tortured woman to death, says doctor, The Sunday Times 1 April 2005
  14. 1 2 Staff, Guardian (2005-07-03). "Email: Naomi Klein and Aaron Maté @ Montreal". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 2019-05-19.