Report 14: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 8

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 the four plaintiff hearings held two weeks ago. The trial continued on Tuesday this week with a single hearing, which was followed by two hearings on Thursday. A hearing scheduled on the Friday was cancelled and is due to be held in February. In this report, we will provide an overview of the three hearings held last week. This week, a scheduled break in the proceedings has meant that no hearings have been held. Next week, members of the court, the prosecution and the plaintiff counsels will resume proceedings on location in Albania, where three hearings will be held. The defendant and the defense team will remain in Stockholm.

Plaintiff 27

On Tuesday morning, the trial continued with the hearing of Plaintiff 27. The hearing began with the plaintiff’s counsel, Göran Hjalmarsson, giving an introduction of the plaintiff and his personal background. The plaintiff was arrested in 1981, on the day before he was due to turn 21, for sympathizing with the MEK and while he was serving in the military. The plaintiff was first brought to Evin prison, where he was severely tortured, before being incarcerated in Ghezel Hesar prison. After a few years in Ghezel Hesar, the plaintiff was transferred to Gohardasht prison in 1986. The plaintiff was brought to the so-called death corridor once and stood before the death committee on the same occasion. He interacted with the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant on several occasions during his time in Gohardasht prison. The plaintiff remained in Gohardasht prison for six months after the mass executions in the summer of 1988 and was then moved to Evin prison, where he remained until his release in 1991.

During the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff spoke of how, on the day before the executions began, the TV in their section of the prison had been removed, and how he and others had observed a member of the prison staff push a wheel-barrow full of rope. This led the inmates to suspect that hangings were due to take place. The plaintiff also described how he had interacted with the defendant during the the same period and that he had questioned him and other prisoners, possibly in preparation of their meeting with the death committee. He recounted how the defendant had seemed “very happy” and had given the impression that he was withholding information from the inmates. The plaintiff then spent a few days in solitary confinement before being brought to the death corridor.

While waiting in the death corridor, the plaintiff saw the person who the prosecution claims is the defendant on several occasions. According to the plaintiff, he saw the defendant escort groups of prisoners to the location where the executions took place on more than one occasion. At one point, the plaintiff overheard guards who were coming back from the location where the executions took place discussing, as the plaintiff understood it, how they would divide belongings such as watches and clothing from executed prisoners between themselves. The plaintiff also spoke how of he had become convinced that he was going to be executed. As he visited the bathroom, he had “said goodbye” to himself and had told himself that “all your suffering is ending, you will come to a place where no torture exists”.

The plaintiff was keen to make a particular point regarding the use of blindfolds in prison. Like all other survivors, the plaintiff spoke of how prisoners were required to wear blindfolds whenever leaving the section of the prison that they were housed in, but that prisoners had also learned of ways to see through or under the blindfolds. The plaintiff pointed out that the blindfolds, in his opinion, were not used to obscure the vision of prisoners, but as a means of exerting control over them. “It is a sign of power” the plaintiff said. He compared this to how the defendant is forced to wear handcuffs when he is led into the court room, which led to the plaintiff being reprimanded by judge Zander. The plaintiff also spoke of how he still has relatives in Iran and how they have done their best to convince him not to testify in the case.

The defense asked the plaintiff to clarify a few of the answers he had given during the prosecution’s questioning but made only a few references to perceived discrepancies in the plaintiff’s statement to Swedish police.

Plaintiff 28

The trial continued on Thursday morning with the hearing of Plaintiff 28. The hearing concerned one of the plaintiff’s brothers, who the prosecution has included in a list of persons executed in Gohardasht prison during the summer of 1988. The plaintiff’s husband had been executed in the same time period, but in Evin prison and, as such, the hearing focused solely on the plaintiff’s brother.

The plaintiff’s counsel, Ghita Hadding-Wiberg, began by giving a brief introduction of the plaintiff’s background and on the fate of the plaintiff’s brother. The plaintiff, her husband and her brother were all members of Rahe Kargar, an organisation described by the plaintiff’s counsel as Marxist-socialist. All three were arrested in Tehran on the same day in the spring of 1985. After three to four months of incarceration in a smaller, local facility, all three were transferred to Evin prison. The plaintiff herself spent a long period in solitary confinement before being released on parole roughly a year after her arrest.

Both the plaintiff’s husband and brother received their verdicts approximately two years after their arrest. The plaintiff’s husband was sentenced to life in prison while her brother was sentenced  to ten years in prison. The plaintiff’s brother was moved from Evin to Gohardasht prison during the fall of 1987. Some time around November 1988, the plaintiff and her family were notified that her husband had been executed and told to collect his belongings. Two weeks later they were given the same information regarding the plaintiff’s brother.

During the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff recounted how she and her family, months after the mass executions, were notified of her brother’s death and how another one of her brothers had traveled to the prison to collect his belongings. He had been handed a suitcase, which the prosecution displayed a picture of, and which contained clothing and a few other items, and had been told that the family was not allowed to arrange any kind of grieving ceremony. The family received no information about where the plaintiff’s brother had been buried.

The prosecution, perhaps intent on preceding any questions from the defense, also asked the plaintiff regarding an interview that she had done with Justice For Iran, in which she had stated that her brother was executed in Evin prison. As the question was asked, the defendant smiled broadly. The plaintiff then explained that she had either given an incorrect answer by mistake or been misinterpreted.

The defense refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions.

Plaintiff 29

After a short recess, the trial continued with the hearing of Plaintiff 29 regarding one of his brothers, who the prosecution has listed as one of the persons executed in Gohardasht prison. As usual, the hearing began with the plaintiff’s counsel, Ghita Hadding-Wiberg, introducing the client and his personal history in brief.

The plaintiff himself had received a death sentence in absentia in 1982 for sympathizing with the MEK and subsequently left Iran. The plaintiff’s brother also sympathized with the MEK and had been arrested in 1981. It was the plaintiff’s belief that his brother first received a fifteen-year sentence, which was later amended to ten years. Most of what the plaintiff knew about his brother’s time in prison and his execution, he had learned through their mother who had regularly visited the plaintiff’s brother in prison. The plaintiff’s brother had attended a demonstration in Tehran in June 1980, which was described by the plaintiff as one of the last demonstrations arranged by the MEK and had escaped an attempt on his life directly afterwards. The plaintiff had gone to see his brother that same night and it would turn out to be the last time that he saw him. The plaintiff had told his brother that he was sad to see him in the situation that he was in, but that he himself had to flee.

After leaving Iran, the plaintiff had been told that his brother had been arrested. The plaintiff thought his brother may have first been incarcerated in Ghezel Hesar prison but that he had been moved to Gohardasht prison at some point, where their mother visited the plaintiff’s brother frequently. The plaintiff’s daughter had also visited the plaintiff’s brother in Gohardasht. The plaintiff had been told by their mother that his brother was suffering in prison, and that a particular torture method had rendered him severe shoulder issues. Their mother’s last visit in Gohardasht prison had taken place a few months before the mass executions.

Like most other families, the plaintiff’s mother, and other relatives who were still in Iran at the time, had only been told of his brother’s execution months after the fact. The plaintiff himself was in England at the time and found out even later. The family had been told to collect his belongings in Evin prison.  When another one of the plaintiff’s brothers went there to collect the belongings, he was told that the deceased brother had been mohareb and had been executed. The family was never told where the body had been buried.

The defense refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions.

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide an overview of the hearings due to be held on location in Albania the week after next.

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