UN experts urge Iran to observe human rights norms in case of dead journalist

27 July 2004 – Voicing “profound concern” over the case of a journalist who died in Iran after reportedly being beaten, three United Nations human rights specialists today called on the government to comply with humanitarian norms, warning that failure to ensure due process set the ground for similar abuses in the future.

The acquittal of an Iranian intelligence officer last week after a two-day trial for the alleged killing of journalist Zahra Kazemi left “unanswered questions,” according to a joint statement issued by Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and Special Rapporteur on torture Theo van Boven.

Ms. Kazemi was arrested on 23 June 2003, while working as a journalist outside Evin prison in Tehran, the Iranian capital. She was reportedly beaten and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment in detention, and died of her injuries 17 days later.

Many reports indicate that the trial proceedings did not meet international standards of fairness because key evidence that might have incriminated judiciary officials, the prosecutor's office and the intelligence ministry was ignored by the court, the statement said. It also voiced concern that journalists and other foreign observers were barred from full access to the courtroom after the start of the trial.

“The independent experts fear that by failing to ensure an open trial and the independent functioning of the judiciary -- which should take into account all findings that could shed light on this case -- the authorities are favouring a climate of impunity for law enforcement officials and setting the ground for the recurrence of similar human rights violations in the future,” the statement added.

“The experts underline the need for prompt and impartial investigations whenever acts and practices of torture are alleged,” it concluded, calling on the authorities to comply strictly with international human rights norms, in particular with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by the Iran.

Under the Covenant, States Parties undertake, among other pledges, to safeguard “an effective remedy” for any person whose rights are violated even when the abuse has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity, and to ensure that competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.

In another development, a visit by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to Iran, scheduled for 25 to 28 July, has been postponed at the request of the Government, which has proposed it take place in October at the latest.

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