Report 11: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 5

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 a summary of both plaintiff hearings that were held last week. The trial continued on Monday this week with the hearing of Plaintiff 15, which was shorter than any previous hearing and concluded before lunch. After lunch, the trial proceeded with the hearing of Plaintiff 16 by link from Canada, which was then concluded on Wednesday. On Thursday, the hearing of Plaintiff 17 ensued and was concluded on the same day. In this report we will provide an overview of all three hearings held this week.

Plaintiff 15

Plaintiff 15 was the first plaintiff to testify who is not a survivor of the mass executions herself, but a relative of an individual that the prosecution claim was executed in Gohardasht prison. The plaintiff told the court that one of her older brothers had been arrested for sympathizing with an organisation in opposition of the regime and, while the plaintiff was not entirely familiar with her brother’s political activities, she had later concluded that he was most likely part of an “underground” branch of the Tudeh party, and that he was initially incarcerated in Evin prison before being moved to Gohardasht. The plaintiff told the court that, while she was already living abroad at the time, her father and two of her other brothers had regularly visited her imprisoned brother in both prisons, but that they were told shortly prior to the time period of the mass executions in the summer of 1988 that visits were no longer allowed.

The plaintiff was also questioned by the prosecution about three letters from her brother, which she had submitted to the Swedish police during the preliminary investigation. The last letter that the plaintiff’s brother had sent his family was dated June 1988 and the plaintiff explained that she and other family members have assumed that her brother never received their response to his final letter.

The plaintiff further explained how she and other family members had begun to hear rumors of mass executions in the summer of 1988 and how they were overcome with worry over her brother. The family would only learn the fate of her brother some time later, as her father was called to Evin prison where he was told his son had been executed, was handed his belongings, and instructed to not hold any sort of grieving ceremony in public. The family has never been told where the plaintiff’s brother was buried.

The defense refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions.

Plaintiff 16

The day commenced with the hearing of Plaintiff 16, a survivor of the mass executions, who was attending the trial by link from Canada. His plaintiff’s counsel, Göran Hjalmarsson, began with a brief presentation of his client. The counsel recounted that the plaintiff was arrested in 1981, at the age of 19, while he was selling magazines for the MEK. He was initially sentenced to two years in prison in a trial lasting no more than a few minutes but was later notified that his sentence had been extended to twelve years and then finally “reduced” to eight years. On neither occasion was the change of his sentence s preceded by a trial. The plaintiff spent time in two different prisons, initially being incarcerated in Ghezel Hesar prison before being moved to Gohardasht prison where he arrived in the spring of 1985. The plaintiff was brought to the so-called death corridor once and stood before the death committee on the same occasion. On the day he was brought to the corridor, the plaintiff claims it was the defendant that came to his section of the prison and read the names of prisoners due to see the committee.  

After penning a letter of repentance, the plaintiff was placed in solitary confinement. The plaintiff explained that he was able to adjust one of the metal rods covering the window in his cell so that he was able to partly see what was going on outside. The plaintiff saw how, every other night, a refrigerated truck would pull up to the prison and would then hear sounds that he identified as bodies being thrown into the truck. The plaintiff was brought from his cell for questioning by prison staff on at least two or three occasions and was beaten on at least one of these occasions. The plaintiff explained that his memories of these interrogations were vague, but that he remembered the defendant being involved in questioning him.

When questioned by the privately appointed counsel representing a group of other plaintiffs , who has previously argued  that the mass execution of persons associated with the MEK should be considered as an act of genocide, the plaintiff recounted a Friday sermon that he had heard on TV in prison shortly before the executions began. The plaintiff explained how the imam had used “harsh words” against the imprisoned monafeqin (“hypocrites” – a derogatory term used by the regime to describe those associated with the MEK), and against all those who are mohareb (“waging war against God”). As the counsel asked if the imam holding the sermon had also mentioned that all monafeqin should be exterminated or executed, the defendant seemed to nod, while the plaintiff confirmed that the imam had said as much.

In a now familiar fashion, the defense focused in on perceived discrepancies between the testimony given by the plaintiff in court and the statement given to the Swedish police during the course of the investigation. One such perceived discrepancy involved a particular section of the prison and the term that the plaintiff had used to describe it. When the defense attorney who led the hearing himself mixed up the two different terms being discussed, the plaintiff pounced and exclaimed something along the lines of:

“You see, you got it wrong. That can happen. Should I claim you’re lying? No, mistakes can be made”.

Plaintiff 17

The trial continued on Thursday with the hearing of Plaintiff 17. The plaintiff is based in Canada but had decided to travel to Sweden to attend the hearing in person, despite the possibility of providing his testimony by link. The plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, began by introducing his client and expanding on the plaintiff’s personal history. The plaintiff had been arrested in 1981, at the age of 17, during his last year of high school, and was apprehended in school.. The plaintiff was arrested for sympathizing with the MEK and had been active in the organization by handing out flyers and attending demonstrations, but had left the MEK two months before being arrested. The plaintiff was originally given a five-year sentence, which was later extended to ten years, and spent time incarcerated in three different prisons – Evin, Ghezel Hesar and Gohardasht prison – being moved between the different prisons on several occasions. During the time period of the mass executions, the plaintiff was incarcerated in Gohardasht prison and was brought to the so-called death corridor once, during which he was also made to stand before the death committee.

The plaintiff spoke concisely when asked by the prosecution to express what he remembered from the time around the mass executions and explained how he, on an evening in the early stages of the process, had been able to see from a window how someone working in the prison had pushed a wheelbarrow full of rope and noticed other movement which was out of the ordinary. On the same evening, a group of 20 prisoners had been escorted from his section of the prison and had never returned. Around the same time the plaintiff had communicated in morse code with a prisoner in a different section, who had mentioned a death committee arriving to the prison. Morse was a common means of communication in Gohardasht prison and similar stories of communication between prisoners has been mentioned by other plaintiffs. The plaintiff explained that he and his fellow prisoners at that point began sensing that something was awry.

The plaintiff further described how he and other prisoners in his section were questioned by prison staff on two occasions regarding their political beliefs and their willingness to condemn the MEK. What a particular prisoner answered appeared to be one of the factors determining if said prisoner was to stand before the death committee or not. The plaintiff explained that he gave evasive answers on the second occasion and concluded that this resulted in him being brought to see the death committee one or two days later. While waiting to see the committee, the plaintiff claims that the defendant had tapped his shoulder and in his “typically sarcastic way of speaking”, had told the plaintiff something along the lines of “finally your last verse has been sung as well”.

The plaintiff claimed to be very familiar with the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant, having first encountered him in Evin prison in the early 80’s when he was a regular guard. After becoming reacquainted in Gohardasht prison, where the same person had rose through the ranks to become a dadyar, they crossed paths again in Evin prison after the mass executions had taken place. The plaintiff also claims that he met the same person after his release from prison. According to the plaintiff, they ran into each other by chance on a street in Teheran and the person he knew from his time in prison had spontaneously exclaimed that he “no longer works in the prison, I work with mines and mining now”. When asked by the prosecution if the plaintiff was certain that it was the same person who he had met in each respective location, the plaintiff confirmed and exclaimed “it is the person sitting here”.

The plaintiff was later asked by his counsel how he had interpreted the spontaneous statement made by the person claimed to be the defendant about working in mining when they crossed paths in Teheran. The plaintiff explained – with the quote translated to English from the Swedish translation of the statement made in Farsi:

“These people felt very powerful in prison. But outside of the prison they were scared, and maybe a little bit ashamed too. What he showed, by his manner, was that he was almost a little worried and he said he was no longer in Evin. At least he told me this”.

The counsel also asked the plaintiff what he meant when had stated earlier that he not only recognized the defendant, but that the defendant also recognized him. “You mean he recognizes you here?” the counsel asked, and the plaintiff quickly replied: “Yes, I can see it in his eyes”.

The defense kept their part of the hearing rather brief, mainly questioning the plaintiff on perceived discrepancies between the testimony given in court and the statement given to the Swedish police. The defense also asked the plaintiff specifically if he had listened to the hearing with Plaintiff 1 and if that was the reason that he had stated a different year in court than to Swedish police when asked about when he had arrived to Gohardasht prison ahead of the mass executions. The plaintiff denied this.

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide a summary of the hearings due to be held next week.

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