Report 8: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 2

Gohardasht prison in Iran. One of the prisons where many persons were executed in the summer of 1988. Photo: Gohardasht Prison / Ensie & Matthias ( / CC BY-SA 2.0

In our previous report, we provided an overview of four out of the first six hearings with plaintiffs in the case. Three more hearings were held last week and in this report we will outline the key points of those hearings. As in our previous post, the plaintiffs will be referred to by a number based on the order in which they have given in testimony court.  

Plaintiff 7

The first plaintiff to be heard last week, Plaintiff 7, gave testimony on 14 September. The proceedings at Stockholm District Court began at 9 AM and the hearing was concluded late afternoon the same day, which likely made for a welcome change for all parties involved as several of the previous hearings have lasted longer than scheduled.  

The plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, set things under way with his opening presentation and described how his client had been arrested in Teheran in 1981 and, after waiting some three and a half to four years before receiving a verdict, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his association with the MEK. The counsel went on to state that the plaintiff had been imprisoned in both Evin and Gohardasht, with three stints in Evin and two in Gohardasht, including during the period for the mass executions, and that the plaintiff had come into contact with the defendant at both prisons. The counsel further claimed that his client had been to the so-called death corridor in Gohardasht twice but that he never had to stand before the death committee. The plaintiff was finally released in 1993. 

As in previous hearings, the prosecution’s questioning centered around the plaintiff’s experience in Gohardasht during the period for the mass execution and his encounters with the defendant. The plaintiff told the court how he and his fellow prisoners were regularly subjected to abuse and outright torture. The plaintiff recalled one particular incident where he and several other prisoners were locked in a small, warm, and poorly ventilated room which they referred among themselves to as the “gas chamber” and how they were kept in the room for hours with prisoners suffering from anxiety and fainting as the oxygen evaporated.  

The plaintiff explained that he had first encountered the defendant in Evin some years prior to the mass executions in Gohardasht and that the defendant was very young and worked as “some type of guard”. The plaintiff went on to describe how the defendant had rose through the ranks due to his “ruthlessness” and that he during the mass executions in Gohardasht held the role of dadyar as a part of the prison management. The plaintiff further claimed the defendant held a similar role in Evin after the mass executions in Gohardasht. 

The defense employed the same tactic as in previous hearings. On several occasions, it referred to the statement made by the plaintiff to the Swedish police during the investigation and pointed out perceived discrepancies. The defense also frequently referred to details, such as dates and the time of the day, in statements made by Plaintiff 1 in his hearing with the Swedish police and in his books, which differed from statements made in court by both Plaintiff 1 and Plaintiff 7, and simply asked plaintiff 7 to comment on such discrepancies. Plaintiff 7 mostly stood firm by the details he had given in his hearing with the prosecution and in a couple of cases stated that the information in Plaintiff 1’s books must be incorrect for some reason or other.  

Plaintiff 8

The trial continued on September 16 with the hearing of a plaintiff we will refer to as Plaintiff 8. As in previous hearings, the hearing began with a brief presentation from the plaintiff’s court appointed counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, who told the court his client was arrested in Teheran in June 1982 for sympathizing with the MEK. He was later sentenced to ten years in prison and unlike the other plaintiff’s heard so far, he is still in possession of the original document containing his verdict. The plaintiff spent time in three different prisons – Evin, Ghezel Hesar and Gohardasht. According to the counsel, the plaintiff encountered the defendant on countless occasions during his time in Gohardasht and also encountered the defendant in Evin after the mass executions in Gohardasht. The fact that the defendant has been identified as the person working as an assistant prosecutor or similar in Gohardasht is partly due to an observation made by the plaintiff. His counsel explained how the plaintiff managed to observe an identity badge belonging to the defendant, which revealed his true identity, during an encounter in Evin. 

The story surrounding the identity badge has been told in court previously, when Plaintiff 1, who named the defendant in a book as early as 2004, explained during his testimony how he learned about the true identity of the defendant from a fellow prisoner and when plaintiff 6 described during his testimony how his brother had come to know the true identity of the person they had encountered as part of prison management in Gohardasht. Plaintiff 8 is the fellow prisoner who Plaintiff 1 was referring to in his testimony and  the brother of Plaintiff 6.  

When asked to tell the story himself, Plaintiff 8 described how in the summer of 1989, around the time Khomeini died, and when the plaintiff was in Evin prison, he and a few fellow prisoners saw a segment on TV dedicated to Khomeini. As it aired, the plaintiff mocked Khomeini in front of his fellow prisoners, which  resulted in him being escorted away by prison guards shortly thereafter. As the plaintiff began telling the story in court, the defendant instantly reacted and addressed the chairman of the court with a plea along the lines of “he cannot insult my leader”. After a brief moment of confusion, when the chairman of the court told the plaintiff to act in a respectful manner without having yet heard the interpretation of the comment by the plaintiff, the hearing proceeded. 

The plaintiff went on to describe how he had been escorted away by guards to the defendant’s office in Evin, and how he there was beaten badly by the defendant and another person. The plaintiff fell to the ground during the assault and as the defendant took his jacket off, his identity badge slipped out of a pocket and landed on the floor. Despite the plaintiff wearing a blindfold, he was able to see from underneath it while lying on the floor and it was then he learned the true identity of the person in front of him and who he was also familiar with from his time in Gohardasht. 

As in previous hearings, the defense’s questioning centered around discrepancies between the statement given by the plaintiff to the Swedish police during the preliminary investigation and his testimony in court. The defense also questioned to what extent the plaintiff had discussed the case with other plaintiffs ahead of the trial. While the plaintiff admitted that he and many of the other plaintiffs often discuss memories from their time in prison, he denied that any detailed discussions about their respective statements to police had taken place.  

Plaintiff 9

The day after Plaintiff 8 had given his testimony in court, the trial continued with the hearing of Plaintiff 9. The plaintiff belongs to a group of plaintiffs who are represented by the privately appointed counsel Kenneth Lewis. The latter started off the proceedings  with a brief presentation of the plaintiff. The counsel described how his client, who had been called to serve in the army, was arrested in the summer of 1980 as he was preparing to deploy to the front. After only a short hearing in front of a committee of some kind he was sent to a military prison, before being transferred to Evin. He was then transferred back to the military prison, where he was questioned and made to appear in a trial, where he was accused of belonging to the MEK, before again being transferred to Evin. In Evin he learned that he had been sentenced to 15 years in prison. The plaintiff was later transferred to Ghezal Hesar and then to Gohardasht, where he was imprisoned during the period of the mass executions. He was brought to the so-called death corridor but never had to stand in front of the committee. The counsel also underlined that the plaintiff made important observations from a window in the section of the prison where he was kept during the period of the mass executions.  

During the hearing the plaintiff described how he, along with a group of three or four other prisoners, on the specific day that the prosecution argues that the executions began in Gohardasht, had been able to get a view of the outside surroundings from one of the windows in their section of the prison through a small gap in between the metal rods that were in place to obscure the outside view from the prisoners. The plaintiff claims that they saw a person pushing a wheelbarrow full of rope. He had concluded from that observation, along with certain development in the prison and chatter amongst prisoners of a committee arriving to the prison to conduct hearings, that executions were taking place. The plaintiff also claimed that he, at a later date, observed a truck from the window and how he could tell that there were bodies piled on the back of the truck.  

When the prosecution had concluded its part of the hearing, the plaintiff’s counsel proceeded. As described in previous reports, the privately appointed counsel Kenneth Lewis, who represents Plaintiff 9, is of the opinion that the execution of prisoners associated with the MEK should be considered as genocide. The counsel’s line of questioning reflected this stance, with many of his questions relating to events that predates the mass-executions in Gohardasht. In his hearing, the plaintiff explained how the execution of persons associated with the MEK began many years prior and was motivated by the regime’s view of MEK as mohareb (those that wage a war against God). When the plaintiff spoke of Khomeini, the defendant again reacted angrily, and proceedings momentarily came to a halt. After a short break, the counsel asked the plaintiff if, considering what happened before the break, he had anything to add in regard to him recognizing the defendant as being the person he encountered in Gohardasht in 1988. The plaintiff then stated: “Yes, from his reaction now. I have seen the same reaction at Gohardasht”.  

The defense’s line of questioning was similar to that in previous hearings, although somewhat shorter in length and with less references to discrepancies between the statement given to police and the testimony in court. 

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide a summary of the plaintiff hearings held this week.  

A translated version of this report in Farsi can be found here