TEHRAN, Iran Iran's Supreme Court ordered a new investigation Tuesday into the death of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist while in custody in 2003, a spokesman for the judiciary said.
The decision rejects a judicial finding in 2004 that Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died in an accidental fall. That conclusion was a sharp departure from earlier findings that she was beaten to death.
"Judges at the Supreme Court have objected to the court investigating the case, saying it was not competent to investigate the case," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters, referring to the initial court that ruled in the case.
Mohammad Seifzadeh, a lawyer representing Kazemi's mother, welcomed the ruling.
"This is a decision is in the right direction. Now, we want a full, free and fair reinvestigation into the deliberate murder of Kazemi," Seifzadeh told The Associated Press.
Kazemi, 54, died on July 11, 2003, after being arrested days earlier while taking photographs outside Evin prison in northern Tehran. She was never formally charged with any crime.
Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke. But a committee appointed by then President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, found Kazemi died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage caused by a "physical attack."
The more conservative judiciary at the time subsequently rejected the presidential finding and in 2004 claimed that Kazemi died in custody from an accidental fall after her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike.
That sharp shift in the official position on the case strained relations between Iran and Canada.
Before the judiciary ruled that she died from an accidental fall, prosecutors charged a secret agent who interrogated Kazemi while she was in custody with the murder. In 2004, a court acquitted the secret agent, and in 2005, an appeals court upheld that ruling.
Lawyers representing Kazemi's relatives have repeatedly said they did not believe that the secret agent was guilty. They have accused prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the conservative judiciary of illegally detaining her. The judiciary cleared Bakhshi of any wrongdoing.
Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the chief lawyer for the victim's mother, rejected the court's rulings involving the secret agent as flawed and threatened to take the matter to international organizations.
The Canadian government has blamed Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi for Kazemi's death. Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a cover-up because he was the one who reported Kazemi died of a stroke.
Canada recalled its ambassador in 2003 to protest how Iran was dealing with the case.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Seifzadeh said his team will exhaust all legal options in Iran in the hope of justice and will take the matter to international human rights organizations if justice is not carried out.
"We will pursue our complaint to the end. The judiciary has to respond to our demand and prosecute the one who committed this crime and works in the judiciary," he said.