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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 02:55 GMT 03:55 UK
Canada seeks return of body
By Lee Carter
In Toronto

Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, is demanding the return of the body of a Canadian journalist who died after being detained in Tehran.

The Montreal-based photo-journalist, Zahra Kazemi was arrested in Tehran on 23 June after taking photos of a prison there, well-known for its detention of dissidents.

After her interrogation she was rushed to hospital, apparently in a coma.

If crimes have been committed, we are demanding the Iranian government punish those who committed the crime
Prime Minister
Jean Chretien
She died of a brain haemorrhage on 12 July. Friends and relatives say she died from injuries she sustained after her arrest.

Jean Chretien says his government wants to verify the cause of Ms Kazemi's death independently and says the reporter's body should be returned immediately.

"If crimes have been committed, we are demanding the Iranian government punish those who committed the crime and we will push that case," Mr. Chretien said from his constituency in Quebec.

"Because if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable that a journalist goes there to do professional work and be threatened in that way."

Confusion

There is confusion as to whether Iranian authorities have admitted to beating Ms. Kazemi.

Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami has ordered ministers to investigate

On Wednesday, Iran's Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi told reporters that Ms Khazemi did die from blows inflicted on her during her detention. This marked the first admission that she had died from mistreatment.

But later, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said that his Iranian counterpart downplayed the earlier comments. Mr Graham told reporters that Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told him it was too early to say exactly how Zahra Kazemi died.

However, Mr Graham said he was told that whoever was responsible for the death would be brought to justice.

Mr Graham says it's now up to the Iranian government to continue its investigation and that he has asked to be regularly updated. However, he says if he does not like the result, Canada will consider sanctions against Iran.

Doubts about burial

It is also unclear whether the reporter's body has already been buried.

Tanya Churchmuch, the Canadian President of Journalists Without Borders says she's learnt from Iranian officials in Paris that Ms Kazemi was buried on Sunday the day after her death was announced.

This has been denied by Iranian officials, even though Ms Kazemi's mother - who lives in Iran - has apparently been given written permission for the body to be given a burial there.

That signed release and the fact that the journalist held Iranian as well as Canadian nationality may weaken the campaign to have her body returned to Canada.

Some Canadian Foreign Affairs officials have said that while spending time in the country of her other nationality, Zahra Kazemi was subject to the all the laws there.

Progress in resolving the case may be dependent on how much Iran values its generally smooth relations with Canada.


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