Iranian official tied to death of Canadian photojournalist now held same prison where she was abused

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
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A former Iranian prosecutor widely held responsible for the beating death of Zahra Kazemi now finds himself in the same hellhole where the Iranian-born Canadian photojournalist was tortured.

Saeed Mortazavi was arrested this week and detained in Evin prison. It's the same place where Kazemi was taken after being arrested outside the prison for photographing demonstrators in June 2003.

Iranian officials have not said why Mortazavi was arrested, but the Al Jazeera news service said he's at the centre of a growing confrontation between outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran's parliament.

Mortazavi is a close ally of Ahmadinejad and was fired after being accused by the president's opponents of helping rig the 2009 presidential election in his favour.

Iran's semi-official news agency, Fars, said the arrest was possibly connected to allegations of torture and death of three anti-government protesters during street demonstrations following the 2009 vote, Al Jazeera said.

Mortazavi headed Iran's social welfare organization until he was removed under pressure from Iran's parliament, The Canadian Press reported.

Kazemi, who is also referred to by her family as her Farsi name, Ziba, was snatched up June 23, 2003, as she was shooting pictures outside Evin prison of wives of prison detainees.

The freelance photojournalist was held in the notorious prison before being transferred in a state of semi-consciousness to a military hospital, when Canadian diplomats learned about her fate from her mother.

Iranian authorities never admitted to abusing Kazemi and balked at demands by her family in Canada to return the body for burial. The family said her elderly mother was coerced into burying the body in Iran, thereby eliminating any possibility of a postmortem that could reveal how she died.

The case generated a diplomatic furor. Canada recalled its ambassador and labelled Kazemi's death a state-sanctioned murder, CP reported. Canada closed its embassy in Tehran last year and broken diplomatic ties with the regime.

[ Related: Israeli PM praises Canada for cutting ties with Iran ]

Mortazavi is thought to have presided over Kazemi's brutal interrogation, as well as the beatings and deaths of other journalists, protesters and opponents of Iran's theocratic authoritarian government, the Globe and Mail said in its report on the arrest.

Mortazavi at first claimed Kazemi had died of a stroke and other officials later said she died from a fall. But a hospital emergency-room doctor who later fled the country claimed he saw Kazemi four days after her arrest and that he saw evidence of brutal beatings, torture and rape, the Globe said.

In 2006, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay confirmed Ottawa holds Mortazavi for Kazemi's death.

"If there is any way Canada can bring this person to justice, we'll do it," he said at the time, according to the Globe.

The current power struggle involving Mortazavi may have come to a head last weekend during a session of Parliament when Ahmadinejad revealed what he claimed were secret recordings of fraudulent business deals involving Ali Larijani's brother, the Globe said.