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Canada Kazemi-linked journalist denied asylum in Sweden

Sweden has rejected the asylum case of an Iranian journalist who played a key role in revealing the circumstances of the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

Early this year, Rabi Nikoo, a 38-year-old Iranian exile in Stockholm, helped emergency room physician Sharam Azam find the contacts he needed to reveal his explosive testimony that Ms. Kazemi had been beaten, tortured and raped in an Iranian prison.

Dr. Azam was granted asylum in Canada in March and now he is vouching for Mr. Nikoo, who fears he will be killed if deported to Iran.

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"What he has done has had more significance than what I did. The Iranian regime is angrier with him than with me," Dr. Azam told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in a recent interview.

Dr. Azam risked his life and left his career behind when he fled Iran for Sweden in August of 2004. With Mr. Nikoo's assistance, he contacted Canadian officials and told them that he had examined Ms. Kazemi on June 27, 2003, at Tehran's Baghiattulah hospital, four days after she was arrested while photographing a demonstration outside Evin prison in northern Tehran.

He found she had been brutally beaten and raped. His account was the first by a medical eyewitness to contradict the official Iranian explanation that Ms. Kazemi died after she fell and hit her head.

Dr. Azam's account of Ms. Kazemi's injuries included horrifying details about severe abdominal bleeding, bruising that was the result of a rape, evidence of flogging to the legs and other "strange marks of violence."

Dr. Azam wasn't convinced he would be safe in Sweden and wanted to come to Canada with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. In March, Canada agreed to accept them as government-sponsored refugees. They have settled in Montreal, where Dr. Azam is studying English and looking for work.

Sweden's overall acceptance rate for refugees is less than 10 per cent, and dozens of politically active Iranian exiles have been assaulted or slain in Sweden and in other European countries.

Mr. Nikoo worries he will be deported to Tehran, where he fears he will be imprisoned and tortured for his role in helping a military doctor win asylum in the West.

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"I would be tortured if sent home and they would try to get the names of all the people Dr. Azam worked with in Iran and in Sweden," Mr. Nikoo said by telephone from Stockholm. "I am afraid I would die."

Mr. Nikoo did an hour-long interview with Dr. Azam, which was broadcast in several countries. He also vouched for Dr. Azam's credibility and confirmed his identity (the two were friends from their university days).

The interview with the doctor, submitted in Mr. Nikoo's asylum case, was not translated or considered by Swedish officials, and it is on this ground that an appeal has been launched.

His asylum case has generated controversy in Sweden, where newspaper columnists and opposition politicians have expressed outrage over the country's refusal to grant a haven to Mr. Nikoo, his wife and two young children.

A union organizer in Iran, Mr. Nikoo was forced to flee the country in 2001 after he organized a demonstration that police shut down. He also spent five years in an Iranian prison in the late 1980s for trade union activity.

Dr. Azam's public testimony about Ms. Kazemi's injuries prompted Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew to launch a tougher diplomatic push for a new investigation into her torture and death.

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Last week, Mr. Pettigrew met with new Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the United Nations and, according to a statement, "expressed outrage" about how the Kazemi case has been handled.

He told his Iranian counterpart that the judicial system "has not treated this case seriously" and that this has had a significant impact on bilateral relations. Mr. Pettigrew also reiterated the family's demands that justice be rendered and Ms. Kazemi's body returned.

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