How the Iranian mullahs raped and killed a Canadian Muslim journalist
Today's front page of the Globe and Mail in Toronto is flooded by an
exclusive account of how the Iranian mullahs raped and killed
Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi, and how they covered up the murder
as well as the murderers.
The account is given by the the Physician who saw Kazemi's beaten
and bruised body just before she died.
This should be an eye-opener to those who feel the Islamic Republic
of Iran is paradise on earth and serves as the model for our
community. Funny, none of them would like to live there!
Read and reflect.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Doctor reveals what happened to Kazemi
By ARNE RUTH AND HAIDEH DARAGAHI
Globe and Mail
Stockholm - Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was savagely
beaten, tortured and raped while in Iranian custody in 2003,
according to an emergency-room doctor who examined her before she
died. Dr. Shahram Azam, an unassuming, intense man in his late 30s,
had barely started his emergency-room shift when he admitted a
female patient on a stretcher from Tehran's Evin prison at 12:15
a.m. on June 27, 2003.
The doctor has recently received political asylum in Canada.
Shahram Azam, formerly a physician on the staff of the Iranian
Ministry of Defence, says he examined Ms. Kazemi, a 54-year-old
Iranian-born dual citizen, at Tehran's Baghiattulah hospital early
on the morning of June 27, 2003 -- four days after she was arrested
while photographing a demonstration outside Tehran's Evin prison.
His account of Ms. Kazemi's condition in the days before her death,
the first by a medical eye witness, confirms that she was tortured --
far more brutally than even critics of Iran's hard-line theocratic
regime had believed.
"Her entire body carried strange marks of violence," Dr. Azam
said. "She had a big bruise on the right side of her forehead
stretching down to the ear. The ear drum was intact, but the
membrane in one of her ears had recently burst, and a loose blood
vessel could be seen. Behind the head, on the left-hand side, was a
big, loose swelling. Three deep scratches behind her neck looked
like the result of nails digging into the flesh. The right shoulder
was bruised, and on the left hand two fingers were broken. Three
fingers had broken nails or no nails."
Dr. Azam's account of his examination, which he intends to describe
at a press conference in Ottawa today, goes on to describe severe
abdominal bruising, "stretching over the thigh down to the knees."
Though male doctors in Iran are not allowed to carry out vaginal
exams, Dr. Azam's emergency-room nurse thoroughly examined Ms.
Kazemi and found the bruising to be the result of "a very brutal
The nurse told him that "the entire genital area had been damaged,"
Dr. Azam said.
There was also evidence Ms. Kazemi had been whipped.
"The backs of both legs where the skin had come off indicated
flogging, five marks on one leg and seven on the other. The big toe
on the left leg was crushed," he said.
Though senior Iranian officials have at various times acknowledged
that Ms. Kazemi was murdered by state security officers -- Iran's
ambassador to the United Kingdom said as much in February, but later
retracted his remarks -- the official Iranian position is that Ms.
Kazemi died after she fainted, fell and hit her head.
Canada has tried to pressure the Iranian regime, without visible
success, into reopening the case. Canada's ambassador to Iran was
withdrawn last July, after a lower-level Iranian official was
acquitted in a brief trial that was widely viewed as a sham. A new
ambassador was sent to Tehran in November.
Dr. Azam fled Iran last August under the guise of seeking medical
treatment in Finland. He later went to Sweden and from there applied
for political asylum in Canada. This month he received landed-
immigrant status as a refugee sponsored by the Canadian government.
He, his wife and 12-year-old daughter landed in Canada on Monday.
For security reasons, he has not revealed where in the country they
intend to settle.
Dr. Azam wants to testify to what he saw in a public hearing, he
said, in hopes that the truth about Ms. Kazemi's death will renew
worldwide attention on her case, and ultimately lead to
the "indictment" of Iran's Islamic Republic.
What the doctor found:
"Her entire body carried strange marks of violence."
-Tehran ER physician Shahram Azam
*Bruised from forehead to ear
*Two broken fingers
*Broken and missing fingernails
*Severe abdominal bruising
*Evidence of 'very brutal rape'
*Swelling behind the head
*Burst ear membrane
*Deep scratches on the neck
*Evidence of flogging to the legs
*Crushed big toe
What the Iranians said:
'The death of the late Kazemi was an accident due to a fall in blood
pressure resulting from hunger strike and her fall on the ground
-Iranian judicial branch, July 28, 2004
[Here is the account in Dr. Azam's own words]
Zahra Kazemi was accompanied by three guards and a written diagnosis
of hemorrhage as a result of digestive problems. Dr. Shahram Azam
soon found that she was deeply unconscious due to a skull fracture
and had wounds and bruises all over her body.
"The first time I set eyes on her, she was an unconscious woman
lying under a sheet on a stretcher with just a bruise on her
forehead," he recalled. "Acting on the diagnosis sent from the
prison clinic, a nurse tried to pass a tube to her stomach through
her nose, but we discovered that the nose bone had been broken."
It was immediately obvious that Ms. Kazemi had been severely beaten,
Dr. Azam said.
Three hours later that same night, as he was taking Ms. Kazemi to
the CAT scan, he passed two colleagues who were not on the hospital
staff, but had brought their own patients in to take advantage of
the hospital's excellent equipment.
"They were terribly shaken when they saw Ms. Kazemi's condition,"
Dr. Azam said.
"When they asked what had happened and I said she'd been severely
beaten, they asked if she'd been sent from prison. I said yes.
Before I inquired further, they volunteered information about her
background and the circumstances of her capture. I didn't ask, but I
take it that they had been present at the demonstration where Zahra
Kazemi had been arrested."
It was then, Dr. Azam said, "that I understood the political
implications of her condition."
Accused of spying, Ms. Kazemi had been kept in custody under the
supervision of Tehran's General Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, until
her transfer to the Baghiattulah hospital.
Mr. Mortazavi, a crony of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, was already known for his decision to close 150 newspapers
within a month in 2000, thereby signalling the end of hopes for a
new political opening in Iran.
Hours after being admitted on June 27, Ms. Kazemi was declared brain-
dead. She was kept on life support for another two weeks.
On July 10, Canada's Foreign Affairs Department summoned Iran's
ambassador to a meeting, at which it demanded both independent
medical treatment and an investigation into Ms. Kazemi's injuries.
On July 11 she was taken off life support. Her death was announced
the next day by Iran's Ministry of Information. There was no mention
of violence as the cause of death.
Ms. Kazemi's family immediately requested that her body be returned
to Canada for autopsy and burial. Instead, she was hastily buried in
her city of birth, Shiraz, in southern Iran.
Soon after, Ms. Kazemi's mother testified that she had been forced
by authorities to sign a document authorizing the burial.
Amid intense international pressure and fierce factional infighting
between Iranian reformers and hard-liners, an Iranian parliamentary
investigation was launched, parallel to an inquiry by a five-member
ministerial committee set up by President Mohammed Khatami.
It emerged during the parliamentary inquiry that Mr. Mortazavi had
tried to cover up the cause of Ms. Kazemi's death by forcing
Information Ministry officials, under threat of arrest, to say she'd
died of a stroke.
There was also testimony, later withdrawn, that Ms. Kazemi had been
beaten unconscious within an hour of her arrest, when a prison
official tried to confiscate her camera.
An official at the reformist-leaning Ministry of Information,
Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, was named in September of 2003 as the
suspected killer. Mr. Ahmadi was cleared of the murder charge on
July 24 of last year.
During his trial, lawyers representing Ms. Kazemi's mother named
Mohammad Bakhshi, the head of security at Evin prison and a
political ally of Mr. Mortazavi, as the possible killer. Four days
later, Iran's judiciary stated that the head injuries that had
killed Ms. Kazemi were the result of an accident.
"With the acquittal of the sole defendant, only one option is left:
The death of the late Kazemi was an accident due to a fall in blood
pressure resulting from a hunger strike and her fall on the ground
while standing," the official Iranian statement said.
Despite protracted diplomatic efforts by Foreign Affairs, among
others, to have that decision overturned and a new investigation
launched, this remains Iran's position today. This outcome came as
no surprise to Dr. Azam. Given the fact that three of the five
ministers on Iran's presidential committee had known about Ms.
Kazemi's arrest and had done nothing to reverse it, he said, the
stage was set for a series of smokescreens from all parts of the
The efforts of both the reformist and hard-line factions to cover up
what happened have, in Dr. Azam's view, been laughable. He believes
the regime, not used to demands for accountability, has fallen into
disarray. "Neither of the two sides in power seemed to be interested
in anything but passing the buck," he said. "The ministers claimed
there were no traces of deliberate damage to her body after they'd
interviewed us in the hospital."
Dr. Azam cited their words: "It is not clear whether death was
caused by a hard object hitting the head or by the head hitting a
hard object." Given that Ms. Kazemi's entire body was testimony to
the use of torture, Dr. Azam said, he felt he had no choice but to
find a way to tell the truth. He knew he couldn't do this in
Iran. "I'd meet a fate as bad as hers. I discussed it with my wife,
and we both agreed that we should leave."
He and his wife of 19 years, Forouzan, made the decision together,
he said. The tale of their escape reads like the plot of an
espionage thriller. Bound by the rule that bars military men from
leaving Iran except on official duty, Dr. Azam had to find an excuse
to seek special permission to go abroad without arousing suspicion.
The chronic injury he'd suffered as a 15-year-old soldier in the
Iran-Iraq war solved the problem. He was allowed to seek special
treatment in the West on condition that he left the deeds of the
family house in Tehran as collateral. Dr. Azam used Sweden, where he
has family, as a base to wait for a courier who would take out of
Iran documents that prove his case. Meanwhile, he was searching for
Ms. Kazemi's son, Stephan Hashemi.
"I did not tell the Swedish immigration authorities the full story.
I wasn't sure that it wouldn't leak to the Iranians. I was set on
coming to Canada to testify in court."
The months of uncertainty he spent in Sweden, without police
protection, waiting for his asylum application to be processed, were
far from easy, he said. Had neither Canada nor Europe accepted him,
he would have tried to find his way to South Africa or Venezuela, he
said. Eventually Mr. Hashemi and his lawyers came to Stockholm for a
face-to-face meeting, Dr. Azam said.
"I told them from the beginning that I was not looking for publicity
or a scandal. I'm only looking for a judicial following of the case.
I would like this case to be taken up by democratic states and human-
rights organizations, leading, hopefully, to the indictment of the
In interviews that began in Stockholm last December, Dr. Azam
explained why he couldn't keep what he'd observed to himself. "I'd
say that I am primarily a member of the human race, then I am an
Iranian, then a physician," he said.
"Meanwhile, I'm also a father, a husband and so on. As a doctor, I
have taken the oath of Hippocrates, whereby I have sworn to help
humanity to my utmost, to safeguard the health and well-being of
patients, irrespective of race, sex or religion."
He wants to testify at a hearing that will make clear to the world
what he knows, he said. To his mind, he has observed a death caused
by torture, and keeping quiet about it would make him an accessory.
He added that he hopes his testimony will set in motion a process
whereby all the available evidence will be collected, examined and
discussed by an international court to show how, in the Islamic
Republic, a person on the street can be captured, reduced to pulp
within five days, and discarded.
"Events in and around Iran right now suggest we are at a watershed."
"The world is more sensitive than usual to human rights abuses in my
country. Even inside the country, the cost to the regime of
arbitrary arrests and killings has gone up. At the very least, my
testimony could force the power holders in the country to realize
that they might have to pay up."
Dr. Azam believes that the dominant political mood in the country is
an ardent desire for change, coupled with a weariness of violence.
"A friend of mine said that in 1979, when the heads of the shah's
regime were executed without trial, and the intellectuals, the
political organizations and the general public did not protest, they
sowed the seeds of the violence and the executions in prisons in the
late 1980s. This time we do not want any revenge at all. We joke
among ourselves, saying: 'We are prepared to pay Khamenei out of our
own pockets if he just goes.' "
He added: "I'm quite ashamed and humiliated when I hear that there
are doctors who contribute to torture, who are prepared to harm,
rather than heal. For my part, what has happened and I know about,
should not be allowed to be repeated."
Haideh Daragahi is a Swedish-Iranian writer, journalist and academic
committed to freedom of expression and women's rights issues in
relation to immigrant communities.
Arne Ruth, former editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter in Stockholm, is
a writer and lecturer on politics, culture and human rights and a
winner of the Swedish Grand Award for Journalistic Achievement. He
is a member of the board of the Swedish Helsinki Committee and the
Article 19 Freedom of Expression Centre in London.