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Still seeking justice 10 years after photojournalist Zahra Kazemi's death

Zahra Kazemi. A self-portrait.

It has been 10 years since Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi's death.

Kazemi, known also as Ziba, was arrested for taking pictures in Tehran on June 23, 2003. The horrific circumstances surrounding her interrogation and murder led to a "cooling" of relations between Canada and Iran.

Last Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird released a statement, remembering Kazemi and reminding Iran that Canada has not forgotten.

"Her memory strengthens our resolve to seek long-awaited justice in her case. It reminds us of all those still languishing as political prisoners in Iranian jails and compels us to keep exerting pressure on the regime in Tehran to take concrete steps to address the egregious state of human rights in Iran and to face the Iranian people's desire for change," Baird said.

An Iranian government report said that she was questioned by a variety of security officials for 77 hours. Then, four days later, she was admitted to a Tehran hospital, without her family's knowledge, according to a backgrounder on her case from Canada's department of foreign affairs.

When her family discovered she was in hospital, they contacted the Canadian embassy and consular officials visited her over the next several days.

But 18 days after her arrest, on July 11, 2003, she died from her injuries.

An Iranian official charged in Kazemi's death was tried and then acquitted in 2004.

Stephan Kazemi was 25-years-old when he lost his mom. Kazemi describes her as a hard-working, photojournalist, dedicated to her craft. It wasn't unusual for her to put in 16 hour days.

Time has not eased Kazemi's pain, anger or his resolve.  "The Iranian government did what they did because they could. They knew the Canadian government would let them do whatever they want.

"They knew very well they'd still be able to sell their gas and make deals with Canadian companies. They didn't hesitate and they weren't wrong. There were no real consequences."

On this 10th anniversary of her death, Kazemi is devoting himself to his mother's memory, vowing justice and he is putting together a travelling collection of a full body of her work.

Kazemi started her journalism in Montreal and then travelled the world -- to Africa, Latin America, throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and beyond. 

In 1999, she went back to Iran for the first time since the early 1970s. Kazemi left Iran as a young woman for France. That is where Stephan, an only child, was born. They came to Canada in 1993.

"She was a woman, she was a mother, she was sensitive ... She would go and get to know people, get close to them, get intimate access, to try to show people are just like us."

Even though she was born in Iran, she "wasn't really Iranian," he said.

"She was a Canadian."

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga


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