Iran-Canada relations affected by reaction to death of journalist in Iran

A storm of protest has erupted in Canada, instigated by elements opposed to Islamic Iran, as well as anti-Muslim groups, over the death of Zahra Kazemi, 54, an Iranian-born photo-journalist, in Tehran.

Kazemi, based in Montreal, was a Canadian citizen. She entered Iran from Iraq some time in June using her Iranian passport, according to information received by Crescent International. She was arrested on June 23 outside Evin prison while taking photographs of a protest that she is reported to have orchestrated, according to reports from Tehran. She neither identify herself as a journalist nor entered the country declaring her true identity. When apprehended, she became abusive and resisted arrest.

She died in a hospital in Tehran on July 11. An inquiry commission, comprised of five ministers, set up by president Khatami, said that she died from a brain haemorrhage caused by a blow to her head. The ministers who conducted the inquiry reported that she was either hit by a blunt object or her head hit a blunt object. An Iranian newspaper has suggested that she deliberately hit her head against a wall while in custody, knowing that her injury would discredit the government.

Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, who lives in Montreal, demanded that his mother’s remains be brought to Canada for autopsy and burial. The Iranian authorities allowed her to be buried in Shiraz on July 23, according to the wishes of Kazemi’s mother, her next of kin in the country. Canada recalled its ambassador in Tehran in protest.

Iran does not recognise dual citizenship, and Iranis holding Canadian passports are required to get a visa to enter the country. Kazemi did not do so, entering Iran on her Iranian passport. Iran has rejected Canadian demands that her remains be sent to Canada, because Tehran considers her to be Iranian and none of Canada’s business. Canadian officials routinely warn Canadians holding dual citizenship that they may not be able to provide diplomatic or consular assistance in countries that do not recognize such arrangements. In Kazemi’s case, Canada is acting as if this arrangement has been accepted by Tehran.

Iran has ordered a full inquiry into the incident, to be conducted by a judge. Five members of the prison security staff who were involved in Kazemi’s interrogation were also arrested on July 26. While the inquiry is in progress it would be improper to pass judgement, yet it is important to emphasize some points. It is true that within the Islamic Republic there are people who take the law into their own hands; police and prison officials are notorious anywhere; Iran is no exception. No matter what Kazemi’s crime, the Islamic Republic should punish those who are responsible for her death in custody. It is not for police or prison officials to administer justice; that is for the courts to determine.

While Canadian officials have been huffing and puffing at Tehran, things are not going well for Iranians in Canada either. Take the case of 18-year-old Keyvan Tabesh, who was killed by the police in Vancouver on July 14. Iran lodged a formal protest with Gilles Poirier, the number two at the Canadian embassy and acting head of mission since Ottawa recalled its ambassador. The Canadian government has said that Tabesh was shot after he “brandished a machete”. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson expressed Tehran’s “disquiet for the safety of Iranian citizens living in Canada” and “asked…for an immediate inquiry and a report on this affair as well as the identification of those responsible who should be punished.”

Bill Graham, Canada’s foreign minister, said that, in addition to recalling the ambassador, other sanctions would also be considered. Behind such rhetoric lies a arrogance that is common to most western governments: an attitude in which others can do nothing right while the West can do no wrong. Ottawa’s protests would be far more credible if it took an equally strong position in support of people like Canadian citizen Maher Arar, an engineer from Ottawa, who was apprehended by the Americans last August in New York and sent, not to Ottawa, but to Syria. Arar has had a single visit from a Canadian consular official so far. There has been no formal protest lodged with the US for this act of piracy. Nor indeed has Ottawa shown much enthusiasm for protecting the rights of the Khidhr brothers é Abdul Rahman and Omar, the latter a minor é who were kidnapped by the US from Afghanistan and are now held in Guantanamo Bay. Both are Canadian citizens who have been denied basic rights, yet Canada does not appear to be taking their plight seriously.

While the Kazemi episode has received massive media coverage, another Canadian, Tarek Loubani, who was arrested by Israel near Jenin on July 9, has also been given short shrift. Loubani went to the West Bank as part of a Canadian peace contingent with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). He was not involved in any violent action, nor did he encourage people to stage protests; he was there to show solidarity with the Palestinians suffering zionist brutalities and to protest the illegal construction of a massive wall by the zionists, thereby stealing even more land. He was released on July 24, and is under a deportation order, having been tortured by the Israelis while in detention.

Has Canada protested such violent behaviour by the zionist thugs in Palestine against one of its citizens? Is it because Loubani stood in opposition to the zionist criminals, or that he is of Arab origin and therefore has fewer rights than others? Foreign minister Bill Graham has issued no statements regarding Loubani’s mistreatment, despite a letter from Svend Robinson, an NDP member of parliament, bringing Loubani’s plight to his attention.

It can be surmised that, had Kazemi been mistreated by the zionists, there would be little media attention; Iran is a different matter because it has become a favourite whipping-boy of the west. The reason is that Iran refuses to toe the US’s line.

The same double standards are evident in the pressure the European Union is trying to exert on Tehran at the US’s behest. On July 24 president Khatami cancelled a trip to Belgium because of the EU’s demand that Iran sign additional safeguards on its nuclear programme for energy generation. Two days earlier Iran rejected “conditions or threats” attached to its negotiations with the EU, whose foreign ministers had expressed “increasing concern” over Iran’s nuclear programme, and warned that the EU would review relations with Tehran unless it cooperated fully.

“More intense economic relations can be achieved only if progress is reached in the four areas of concern, namely human rights, terrorism, [nuclear] non-proliferation and the Middle East peace process,” a recent EU statement says. The ministers say that they will “review future steps of the cooperation between the EU and Iran in September,” and that their next moves depend on a report by Mohamed El-Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. All of these areas are based on allegations made by the US against Tehran. A similar campaign was launched against Iraq before the US and Britain went to war. Their lies then are now open for all to see.