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Iran agent acquitted in death of woman

TEHRAN -- A Tehran court acquitted the sole defendant in the murder of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, the lawyer representing the victim's mother said yesterday.

Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace laureate who is the chief lawyer for the mother of Zahra Kazemi, said the legal proceedings were flawed.

"I'm required to work until my last breath to make sure that justice is done," Ebadi said.

She threatened to take the matter to international organizations.

"I'll protest this verdict," Ebadi said.

"If the appeals court and other legal stages fail to heed our objections, we will use all domestic and international facilities to meet the legal rights of my client."

Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died July 10, 2003, while in detention for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy.

Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi died of a stroke, but a presidential committee later found that she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage.

The agent charged with murdering Kazemi, Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, pleaded innocent July 17 and the trial abruptly ended the next day.

Hard-liners were angered when the defense team, led by Ebadi, accused prison official Mohammad Bakhshi of inflicting the fatal blow to Kazemi and the conservative judiciary of illegally detaining her.

Ebadi said the court also ruled that Kazemi's blood money has to be paid by the government. Blood money is the compensation that an Islamic court orders a convicted attacker to pay to the victim or the victim's relatives. In Kazemi's case, the money has to be paid from public funds because no murderer has been identified.

The average compensation paid to relatives of a Muslim man killed is about $18,750. The payment is about half that if the victim was Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, or a woman, regardless of her religion.

Relations between Iran and Canada further deteriorated after Iran rejected the idea of Canadian observers attending the trial.

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