Report 13: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 7

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 the five plaintiff hearings held by video link from Albania during last week. The trial continued with a hearing on Monday afternoon this week. It then proceeded with an additional two hearings on Tuesday and a single hearing on Wednesday. The hearings were held on location in Stockholm District Court and in this report, we will summarize all four hearings held this week.

Plaintiff 23

Plaintiff 23 had flown in from Canada for the hearing on Monday afternoon despite the possibility of attending by link. The hearing concerned one of her brothers, who the prosecution has listed as a person executed in Gohardasht prison. The plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, began by giving a brief introduction of the plaintiff and her background. The plaintiff herself had been imprisoned in both Evin and Gohardasht prison during 1981 and 1982 for sympathizing with the MEK. Her brother was a member of the, as described by the plaintiff’s counsel, atheist and Marxist organisation Rahe Kargar and had been arrested in Tehran in May 1982 for his involvement with the organisation, while the plaintiff was in prison herself. The plaintiff’s brother had received a 15-year sentence roughly a year after his arrest and had been incarcerated in three different prisons – Evin, Ghezel Hesar and Gohardasht. He had been moved to Gohardasht prison during 1986 and was executed there on 27 August 1988.

The prosecution’s questioning centered around a number of documents that the plaintiff had submitted to Swedish authorities during the course of investigation, and which have been included as evidence in the case. The plaintiff’s brother had worked as a schoolteacher and the documents submitted by the plaintiff included a letter of dismissal from the department of education in Iran, which had been sent to their parents. The letter of dismissal included information on the allegations against the plaintiff’s brother, the date of his trial and the length of his sentence.

The plaintiff and her family had only been told of her brother’s death months after the execution, after being called to see a committee of some kind in the western part of Tehran. Once there, the plaintiff’s father had received two bags containing the belongings of her brother and been told the family were not allowed to arrange any kind of grieving ceremony for him. The family had not been told where the body of the plaintiff’s brother had been buried. At one point during questioning the plaintiff stated something along the lines of: “I’m asking the chairman of the court to allow me to say this. The defendant, in his position as dadyar in Gohardasht, is aware of the final destination of the refrigerated trucks [with bodies] and must tell us”. The defendant did not offer any reaction to the statement.

The defense refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions.

Plaintiff 24

The trial continued on Tuesday morning with the hearing of Plaintiff 24. The plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, started off with a brief introduction of the plaintiff and her background. the hearing itself focused on the plaintiff’s husband, who was executed in Gohardasht prison. The plaintiff also had a brother who was executed in 1988 but as it has proven impossible to determine where he was executed, he has not been included in the prosecution’s list of persons executed in Gohardasht. The plaintiff and her husband were both part of a, as described by the plaintiff’s counsel, a Marxist organisation called Fadaiyan. They had been married for six months when the plaintiff’s husband was arrested in October 1985. It is not known where he was arrested but he failed to return home after a meeting with the organisation. When her husband was arrested, the plaintiff decided to go underground and fled the country via Turkey before eventually settling in Sweden in 1986. In other words, the plaintiff was in Sweden by the time of her husband’s death.

During the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff explained that she and her husband had belonged to the “minority” faction of Fadaiyan (“Fadaiyan-Aghaliat”) and were both actively working against the regime. The plaintiff explained that she and her husband had taken precautionary measures ahead of the meeting that he was due to attend the day that he was arrested, and that it was agreed that she would leave their home if her husband did not return within a couple of hours. During the same time period, one of the plaintiff’s brothers, who was also politically active, had also been arrested. For months thereafter, both the plaintiff’s parents and her husband’s parents were trying to find out what had happened to their respective sons. The plaintiff was in Sweden by then and her knowledge of her husband’s situation stems from conversations with her mother and her mother-in-law.  

After finding out that the plaintiff’s husband was incarcerated in Evin prison, the plaintiff’s mother-in-law had visited her son in prison and told the plaintiff that he was feeling very low. A few months later, the plaintiff’s husband had told her mother-in-law that he had been given a 15-year sentence. When asked by the prosecution what the allegations entailed, the plaintiff answered something along the lines of:

“He was a Marxist and a believer in freedom and equality. I just have to say that in Iran, if you have views differing from the regime, no matter the subject, it is considered a crime and you can be put in prison”.

The plaintiff’s mother-in-law had continued to visit the plaintiff’s husband regularly while he was incarcerated in Evin prison. The last visit had taken place in March 1988. As time passed after the last visit, the plaintiff’s mother-in-law had contacted the authorities on several occasions to try and find out how her son was doing and where he was. It was only months after the mass executions that the plaintiff’s husband’s family had been told that their son had been executed and told to collect his belongings. They in turn relayed the news to the plaintiff, who only became aware that her husband had been moved to and executed in Gohardasht prison years later through former prisoners who had survived the mass executions. When the plaintiff’s counsel later asked her how the loss of her husband has affected her, the plaintiff became clearly emotional. The plaintiff explained how “although we’re alive, we never feel any happiness. All joy is passing, this tragic story is always present”.

The plaintiff was then questioned by the defense briefly, with focus on perceived discrepancies between the statement given by the plaintiff to the Iran tribunal and her testimony in court.

Plaintiff 25

After a break for lunch, the trial continued on Tuesday with the hearing of Plaintiff 25. The plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, again began by giving a brief introduction of the plaintiff and her background. The hearing concerned the plaintiff’s brother, who is one of the individuals that the prosecution has listed as one of the prisoners executed in Gohardasht prison. The plaintiff’s brother had been a member of the communist party Ettehadieh-e Kommunistha and had been especially involved in producing the organisation’s publication. He had been arrested around 14 July 1982.The plaintiff, who was twelve at the time, and her family, had found out about his arrest weeks later. Two years after his arrest, the plaintiff’s brother was sentenced to ten years in prison for selling the organisation’s publication and for offering financial support to the organisation. The plaintiff’s brother had been incarcerated in both Evin and Gohardasht prison and the family was later told by former inmates that he had been executed in Gohardasht prison on 27 August 1988. His family had not found out that he had been executed until in December 1988, when they were called to collect his belongings in Evin prison.

During questioning, the plaintiff described how her brother had been set up by another member of his party by being called to a “burned meeting”. This, the plaintiff explained, meant a meeting that was arranged by the authorities after another member of the party had been forced under torture to set the plaintiff’s brother up for arrest. After the disappearance of the plaintiff’s brother, the family had become overcome with worry. The plaintiff’s mother contacted hospitals and prisons to try and find out what had happened to the brother. When the plaintiff was asked by the prosecution how and when the family had found out why her brother was arrested, the plaintiff said something along the lines of “the Islamic republic never gives information, they feel no responsibility” and then added “we are dealing with a fascist government that does not take responsibility for anything”. The defendant immediately responded: “She has no right to insult the Islamic republic! Your parents can be fascists!”.

The chairman of the court, judge Tomas Zander, then reprimanded the plaintiff and stated that no one attending a trial should be given a reason to feel insulted, while also asking her to refrain from making further disrespectful remarks. Kenneth Lewis, who is privately representing a group of other plaintiffs, interjected and stated that “no one has attacked or insulted the defendant”, while the plaintiff herself added that she had not insulted anyone. Judge Zander seemed unfazed by their objections and again asked the plaintiff to refrain from making similar remarks.

The plaintiff futher explained that she had last visited her brother in Gohardasht prison in the end of March 1988. During the summer of 1988, visits were no longer allowed. The family began getting worried and repeatedly contacted the authorities but were not given any information about the whereabouts of the plaintiff’s brother. In early December 1988, when the plaintiff’s mother went to Gohardasht prison to try and find out what had happened, she had been given a note through which the plaintiff’s father was instructed to come to Evin two days later. When the plaintiff’s father went to Evin, he was told that the plaintiff’s brother had been executed, that “his place was in hell” and that the family was not allowed to hold any kind of grieving ceremony. They were never informed of where his body was buried. When asked by the prosecution how the plaintiff could be certain that her brother had been executed in Gohardasht prison despite her father being called to Evin, the plaintiff explained that former prisoners had told her that her brother was indeed executed in Gohardasht.

The defense refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions.

Plaintiff 26

The trial continued on Wednesday, with the hearing of a former prisoner in Gohardasht prison who survived the mass executions in 1988. The hearing again began with the plaintiff’s counsel, Bengt Hesselberg, giving a brief introduction of the plaintiff and his background. The plaintiff was a member of the MEK and was hiding out in a remote village when he was arrested in late November 1981. The plaintiff was 17 years old at the time of his arrest and was given a 15-year sentence for his involvement with the MEK about five or six months after his arrest. The plaintiff was incarcerated in three different prisons. For the first eighteen months, the plaintiff was incarcerated in a prison in his hometown Rasht. The plaintiff was then moved to Gohardasht prison and was incarcerated there until the end of 1988. When the mass executions had taken place, he was moved to Evin prison, and was finally released in 1993. The plaintiff stood before the death committee in Gohardasht prison on two occasions and had several encounters with the person who the prosecution claims is the defendant.

The plaintiff’s story shared many similarities with those of the survivors who have been heard previously during the trial. The plaintiff recounted how, the day before the executions began, the TV in their section of the prison had been removed and that spending time in the prison yard had become prohibited. The next day, the plaintiff and his fellow prisoners started seeing other prisoners being escorted away by guards, and rumors started circulating amongst the inmates that executions were taking place. In the evening the plaintiff had noticed what he perceived as lights from vehicles outside while he and his fellow prisoners could hear “thuds” which they perceived to be bodies being loaded on to trucks. The day after, the plaintiff was himself escorted to the so-called death corridor by a person he claims to be the defendant. However, the plaintiff was not called in to see the death committee until he was brought back to the corridor the next day. The plaintiff explained that, when he stood before the death committee and was asked what he had been accused of, while knowing that executions were taking place, he stood silent for a moment. The plaintiff then elaborated on his answer to the committee and said something along the lines of:

“I couldn’t stand for my ideals. Somehow, I backed down from my convictions, what I believed in. Then I used that cursed word: monafeqin. This is something that I will live with for the rest of my life, that I backed down. And that those that didn’t, stood up for the name of MEK. They were executed, while I got to live. This is something I’ll always regret”.

The plaintiff further expressed that the choice he made in answering the committee had been the hardest decision of his life and that he to this day wished that he had been executed as well. But the plaintiff also spoke of his desire to be a “voice for the voiceless” and to share his story in memory of those who were executed.

Things got somewhat agitated when the plaintiff was asked by the prosecution if he recognized the defendant as the person he remembered from his time in Gohardasht prison. Something about the plaintiff’s answer made the defendant react angrily and exclaim something along the lines of: “He is insulting me! He said I was not human! It is the MEK-sympathizers who are not human!”

It is not entirely clear what made the defendant react, it may have either been something the interpreter left out or something the defendant misunderstood, but when the chairman of the court stated that he did not make note of any insult, the defendant shouted: “He is not insulting me! He is insulting you!”. Judge Zander then began laughing and assured the defendant that he did not feel insulted, before calling for a short break.

The line of questioning from the defense then centered around perceived discrepancies between the statement given by the plaintiff to Swedish police and his testimony in court.  More conflict ensued during this part of the hearing, after the plaintiff claimed that the defendant had made a threatening gesture towards him. The plaintiff then added: “The defendant thinks he’s in Gohardasht and about to execute us. This time it is the defendant who is on trial”.

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide an overview of the plaintiff hearings due to be held next week.

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