Supreme Court to rule whether torture suit can proceed against Iran

The country argues that it can't be sued because of protection under the State Immunity Act.

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada decides later today whether the son of murdered Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi has the right to sue the Iranian government.

Lawyers for Stephan Hashemi and several human rights groups argue that under the United Nations convention on torture, Canada must ensure there is a civil remedy for victims of torture so they can be compensated.

Iran has filed a motion asking that the action be dismissed, arguing that it can’t be sued because of protection under the State Immunity Act.

The Canadian government has intervened to defend the validity of the law, but says that that in no way means it condones torture.

Government lawyers argue that preserving the validity of the law is necessary for the stability of international relations.

The federal government has been a vocal critic of Iran, severing diplomatic relations in part because of what it says is an abysmal human rights record.

Kazemi, a Canadian citizen who was born in Iran, was arrested while photographing a demonstration outside Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in the summer of 2003. She was jailed, where she was tortured and raped before dying in hospital almost three weeks later.

The extent of what she endured was revealed by a doctor, who worked for the Iranian Defence Ministry and who examined the 54-year-old woman in hospital. He spoke publicly after he successfully sought asylum in Canada.

After examining Kazemi after her arrest, the doctor said he found clear signs of torture and sexual assault, including broken fingers, missing fingernails, a broken nose, evidence of whipping and deep lacerations.

Her son, Hashemi, has waged a relentless campaign for justice on behalf of his mother for more than a decade.

The case wound its way to the Supreme Court after Hashemi filed a civil action in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal against Iran’s Islamic Republic, its head of state and chief prosecutor as well as the former deputy intelligence chief of Evin Prison.

Hashemi’s lawyer told the Supreme Court in a hearing this past winter that the law on state immunity denies access to justice and is therefore unconstitutional.

A lawyer for Amnesty International, another intervener, argued that the state immunity law was absurd, saying the appeal to the high court was a chance to “set the record straight.”

Hashemi’s lawsuit names the Islamic Republic of Iran; its leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi; and prison official Mohammad Bakhshi.

Nicknamed “Butcher of Journalists,” Mortazavi was Tehran’s prosecutor general in 2003, and signed off on Kazemi’s detention.