Iran's judiciary said Wednesday that an Iranian Canadian photojournalist died in custody from a fall after her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike, a shift in position on a case that has strained relations between the two countries.
The hard-line judiciary also denounced President Mohammad Khatami's administration, which had offered Monday to help identify the killer of Zahra Kazemi, the photographer. The judiciary accused Khatami's government of providing fuel for a "spiteful" foreign media.
"The death of Mrs. Zahra Kazemi was an accident," a judiciary statement said. A Tehran court on Saturday cleared intelligence agent Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, the sole defendant in the case, of killing Kazemi, who died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage in July 2003.
Kazemi, a Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin, died while in detention for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during student-led protests against Iran's theocratic government.
Iranian authorities initially said Kazemi had died of a stroke, but a presidential committee later found she died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage. Ahmadi was charged with "semi-premeditated murder."
He denied the charge, and a team of lawyers representing the photojournalist's mother argued that the real killer was Mohammad Bakhshi, a prison official who they said was being protected by the judiciary.
Bakhshi was cleared of wrongdoing before Ahmadi's trial.
"With the acquittal of the sole defendant, only one option is left: the death of the late Kazemi was an accident due to fall in blood pressure resulting from a hunger strike and her fall on the ground while standing," the statement said.
The statement accused a government spokesman, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, of inciting public opinion, an assertion that could put the judiciary and government in a direct confrontation if formally pursued as a criminal charge. However, a judiciary spokesman, Zahed Bashirirad, said Wednesday that there was no immediate intention to indict Ramezanzadeh.