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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Cover-up claim at Iran agent trial
Zahra Kazemi
Kazemi died from head injuries sustained during her interrogation
An Iranian court trying an intelligence agent for the murder of a Canadian journalist has heard the real culprit may have been a more senior official.

Lawyers for the family of Zahra Kazemi said the injuries that caused her death in custody were inflicted by a top justice official in Tehran's Evin jail.

Iranian-born Ms Kazemi died of a brain haemorrhage in 2003 after she was held for taking pictures outside the prison.

Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, accused of killing her, has pleaded not guilty.

On Saturday, Canada suspended an earlier decision to recall its ambassador to Tehran, after Iranian officials agreed to allow Canadian observers at the trial.

There were burns on my daughter's chest, her fingers and toes and nose were broken
Zahra Kazemi's mother
Ambassador Philip MacKinnon had been scheduled to leave on Sunday.

A Canadian embassy spokesperson told the AFP news agency that he had spent the day at the trial.

In the courtroom Zahra Kazemi's mother said her daughter had been "tortured to death" in Iranian custody.

"There were burns on my daughter's chest, her fingers and toes and nose were broken," Ezzat Kazemi told the court.

She said she had seen the body before it was buried.

Climbdown

Defendant Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi denied the charge of "semi-intentional murder" at the trial's opening session last October.

Proceedings resumed on Saturday after a nine-month break, intended to allow lawyers representing the Kazemi family to research the case.

Lawyers led by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, representing Ms Kazemi's family, told the court in Tehran that witnesses had seen her being hit on the head by a senior judicial official, identified as Mohammad Bakhshi.

The court heard that after being struck, she fell down and was then unable to walk.

All four lawyers representing the Kazemi family said the prosecutor had ignored key elements of the case, deciding to try an innocent man in order to protect one of the judiciary's own senior men.

Canada said it was recalling its ambassador to Tehran earlier this week after he was denied permission to attend the trial.

However, the BBC's Miranda Eeles in Tehran says Iran's judiciary backed down after the Canadian announcement and allowed the ambassador, Philip MacKinnon, to enter the courtroom.

Fierce debates

Ms Kazemi, 54, was detained on 23 June 2003.

She died in hospital in Tehran on 10 July after falling into a coma, having received head injuries during more than three days of interrogation.

The case has sparked a fierce debate between the hardline judiciary and the reformist intelligence ministry.

Both sides have accused one another of staging a cover-up to divert responsibility for Ms Kazemi's death.

The moderate President Mohammad Khatami has backed the intelligence ministry, saying: "I believe the agent was not guilty. I hope the court will bravely be able to identify the guilty person."


WATCH AND LISTEN
Sadeq Saba, Iranian affairs analyst
"There has been a lot of pressure on Iran to be open about this case"



SEE ALSO:
Nobel winner takes on murder case
04 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Iran reformists denounce judges
28 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Khatami blasts custody death trial
08 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Murder trial sparks Iran row
08 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Agent charged over journalist death
22 Sep 03  |  Middle East
Iran death findings 'wrong'
26 Aug 03  |  Middle East


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