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Canada court hears case against Iran for photojournalist death

[JURIST] The Quebec Superior Court [official website] began hearing arguments [CCIJ press release] Wednesday on the pivotal issue of Canadian torture victims' right to sue foreign governments and foreign officials on Canadian soil. The case was brought by Stephan Hashemi, son of slain Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi [CBC profile; JURIST news archive], against the Iranian government and three officials for their role in the 2003 death of his mother in a Tehran prison. Hashemi is seeking moral, physical, and punitive damages for the arrest, torture, sexual abuse, and death of his mother. Citing Canada's State Immunity Act [text], which strictly limits the circumstances under which a foreign government or its officials may be sued in Canada to commercial purposes only, the nation's courts have previously refused [CBC report] to hear civil suits brought against foreign countries. Matt Eisenbrandt, a human rights lawyer and legal coordinator for the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) [advocacy website] who is working on the case, maintains that the immunity act violates other Canadian laws such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] and the Bill of Rights [text]. The CCIJ and the Amnesty International France [advocacy website, in French] have both applied for intervenor status [Toronto Star report].

Kazemi was arrested in June 2003 after photographing a demonstration outside Evin prison in Tehran. The Montreal resident was never formerly charged with a crime, but an examination [JURIST report] demonstrated physical signs of torture, severe beating, head trauma, and rape, which consequently led to her death in July of 2003. Iranian authorities originally stated that her death was accidental and caused by a stroke but later conceded that she was beaten while still maintaining that the death was accidental. In the original suit brought in Iran, the intelligence officer charged with Kazemi's death was acquitted [JURIST report]. On appeal a higher court upheld the acquittal but allowed the murder investigation to be reopened [JURIST report].

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