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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Iran trial halted amid acrimony
Zahra Kazemi
Kazemi died of head injuries in custody
A court in Iran has abruptly ended the trial of an intelligence agent accused of killing a Canadian journalist.

Lawyers for slain Iranian-born Zahra Kazemi said the trial was a farce and refused to sign the court record.

The authorities barred diplomats and foreign journalists from attending the second day of the hearing. It is not clear when a verdict will be announced.

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

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

Ms Kazemi's defence team - led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi - has accused the authorities of a cover-up, saying a more senior official is the real culprit.

Shirin Ebadi
They didn't even pay attention to our evidence and announced the end of the trial
Shirin Ebadi
Defence lawyer

"They didn't even pay attention to our evidence and announced the end of the trial," Ms Ebadi told reporters outside the Tehran court.

"This is not a fair trial. The case hasn't been reviewed. If they issue a verdict it will be unfair," she said.

Refusing to sign documents which legitimise the court, she then called for the case to be moved to a higher provincial tribunal.

Test case

Correspondents say the trial has strained Iran's relations with Canada, and deepened the rift between the reformist government and the hardline judiciary.

Reformist President Mohammad Khatami has said he believes the intelligence agent is innocent and has called on the judiciary to identify "the real guilty person".

Ambassador Philip MacKinnon of Canada, his Dutch counterpart representing the European Union and senior diplomats from Britain and France - alongside foreign journalists - arrived at the courtroom to find their access blocked.

Policemen closing the gates to the courtroom on Saturday, 17 July
It does not make sense to have a Canadian representative [at the trial]
Hamid Reza Asefi
Iranian government spokesman
The guards at the gate explained that, unlike a day earlier when they were allowed in, the rules had now changed and no foreigners would be admitted.

A spokeswoman for the UK Foreign Office confirmed that a British observer had attended the trial on Saturday but was denied entry on Sunday. She made no further comment.

According to Iranian journalists allowed into the courtroom, the judge said they were being barred to show the international community that Iran would not bow under pressure.

"Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian citizen. It is absurd for Canada to claim she was Canadian... It does not make sense to have a Canadian representative there," Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

"Any such presence would not in any way add to the fairness or impartiality of any trial," he said.

The diplomats sharply criticised their exclusion from the trial and warned there would be serious consequences.

"The cause of human rights in Iran has taken a very serious blow today," one told reporters.

More senior culprit?

Ms Kazemi, 54, was detained on 23 June 2003, after taking pictures outside Tehran's Evin jail.

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.

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.

The lawyers told the court that witnesses had seen her being hit on the head by a senior judicial official, identified as Mohammad Bakhshi.

The BBC's Miranda Eeles
"The trial has revealed a bitter power struggle between two important institutions in Iran"

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