An Iranian official leading the latest investigation into the 2003 death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi is accusing Ottawa of illegal and biased behaviour in the case.


Photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in Iranian custody in 2003. The latest investigation into her death opened Nov. 27, 2007. ((CBC))

Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran's Human Rights Commission, told CBC News that the probe of the Montreal-based freelance journalist's death while in Iranian custody is expected to wrap up in two to three months.

"I think the position of the Canadian government is biased and unjustful and is not legal as well," Larijani said.

His harsh words, over Canada's criticisms over how the case has been handled, are the latest in ongoing accusations traded between Ottawa and Tehran over Kazemi's death.

Kazemi, 54, died in custody nearly three weeks after her arrest for taking photographs outside the infamous Evin prison in Tehran during student protests.

Larijani also repeated Iran's stance that the death is an internal matter and that Canada has no business getting involved. He went on to say that Canada has treated Iran unfairly over the Kazemi case and he hopes Canadian officials will see the error of its ways.

In November 2007, Iran's Supreme Court ordered the latest investigation into her death after finding that the Iranian court that probed Kazemi's death was "not competent."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier responded to Larijani's comments by saying Canadian foreign policy is to promote human rights, rule of law and democracy around the world.

Iranian officials have repeatedly changed their story about Kazemi's death. Days after her death on July 11, 2003, they pinpointed the cause as a stroke while she was interrogated in hospital. Later, officials said Kazemi died from a beating.

Then in 2005, an Iranian court ruled she died from a fall after her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike — and acquitted an intelligence officer accused in the case.

The Canadian government rejected that decision partly because they say Canadian observers were not allowed at the trial. Iran has also been criticized for refusing Ottawa's request for Kazemi's body to be returned to Canada.

Kazemi's death came into the international spotlight in 2005 when an Iranian doctor who fled the country alleged he had seen obvious signs of torture when examining Kazemi in the hospital, including a skull fracture, broken fingers and evidence of a brutal rape.

Larijani maintains that the current probe, which is under his supervision, is being done in a "very open spirit."

But when Kazemi's family heard of the new investigation, they expressed skepticism, saying past experiences with the Iranian justice system left them disappointed.

Her son, Stephan Hachemi, has accused the Iranian government of sweeping the case under the carpet.

Larijani dismissed that accusation. "He doesn't know. His knowledge is very limited. Perhaps he has been … influenced by some political ambitions," he said.

Hachemi has filed a civil suit against the Iranian government in a Quebec court. That case is expected to go to trial in 2009.