(AFP) - A Tehran prosecutor who has been accused of involvement in the death of an Iranian-Canadian photographer has provoked fresh controversy by attending the new United Nations Human Rights Council.
Canadian authorities and rights activists said they were appalled to learn that Said Mortazavi, a senior figure in Iran's hardline judiciary, was part of the Iranian delegation to the council, reports Trend.
In a statement, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said the presence of Mortazavi "demonstrates the government of Iran's complete contempt for internationally recognized principles of human rights."
"The government of Canada expresses its disgust at the fact that Iran would choose to include such a person in its delegation to a new UN body intended to promote the highest standards of respect for human rights," said MacKay.
The Council began its inaugural two-week session on Monday, and UN officials confirmed that Mortazavi was indeed a delegation member.
Iran last month failed to win election to the new 47-nation body, but is among the countries which sent a delegation of observers.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is due to address the Council on Thursday. He is one of dozens of ministers scheduled to speak this week.
The Council replaced the widely-discredited UN Human Rights Commission, which often got bogged down in political horse-trading and was accused of doing too little for the victims of human rights abuses.
Campaigners also slammed Mortazavi's inclusion in the Iranian delegation.
"His presence at the Human Rights Council is really shocking. It is an insult to the victims of repression in Iran," Lynn Tehini, of the journalists' rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF), told AFP.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Iran should immediately remove Mortazavi from its delegation.
"Iran's decision to send Mortazavi to Geneva demonstrates utter contempt for human rights and for the new council," said Joe Stork deputy director of Middle East and North Africa division for Human Rights Watch. "Iran has just confirmed why UN members refused to elect it to the Human Rights Council."
The International Human Rights Federation, meanwhile, addressed an open letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Council officials.
It urged them to respond to Iran's "provocation," noting that it came just days after Annan and Arbour had told the Council that it should be a beacon for human rights.
Iranian human rights advocates, including the lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, have accused Mortazavi of being present in July 2003 when press photographer Zahra Kazemi received a fatal blow to the head.
Kazemi, who was 54, died in custody in Tehran after being arrested for photographing a demonstration outside a prison in the Iranian capital.
Mortazavi has also been accused of masterminding a cover up.
Iran's former reformist government had acknowledged that Kazemi was violently beaten in custody, but the judiciary had initially claimed she died of a stroke and went on to say she may have been injured in a fall.
The affair has badly damaged Iran's relations with Canada.
Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, asserts that Canada has no business looking into the affair.
Last November, Iran's judiciary upheld its earlier acquittal of an intelligence agent accused of Kazemi's murder, but called for a new probe.
Campaigners also have Mortazavi in their sights for other reasons: he was responsible for the closure of dozens of reformist newspapers when he was a member of Iran's press council.