Report 15: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 9
In our previous report, we provided an overview of the three plaintiff hearings held two weeks ago. The trial continued on Wednesday last week with a single hearing. A further two hearings were then held on Thursday and Friday respectively. All three hearings were held by video link from Durres district court in Albania, with only the defendant, defense team and two of the four plaintiff counsels present in the courtroom in Stockholm. The hearings are being held in Albania where all three plaintiffs reside. In this report we will summarize the three hearings held last week.
The proceedings were initiated an hour earlier than usual, at 8 AM, upon the request of the court in Albania. The trial resumed with the hearing of Plaintiff 30. As usual, the hearing began with the plaintiff’s counsel, the privately appointed lawyer Kenneth Lewis, giving a brief introduction of his client and the plaintiff’s personal background. The plaintiff was arrested in 1981, at the age of 16, for sympathizing with the MEK and was sentenced to life in prison in a three-minute trial.
The plaintiff was initially incarcerated in Evin prison, before being transferred to Gezel Hesar prison where he was imprisoned for around two years before being transferred back to Evin. While in Evin prison, the plaintiff was tortured badly. In the summer of 1985, the plaintiff was transferred to Gohardasht prison. In 1987, the plaintiff’s sentence was reduced from life in prison to ten years. The plaintiff remained in Gohardasht until a few months after the mass executions in the summer of 1988. He was moved to Evin in the fall of 1988, before finally being released 1992. In addition to his status as a plaintiff by virtue of the torture and inhumane treatment he suffered during the mass executions, the plaintiff’s brother is listed by the prosecution as one of the persons executed in Gohardasht prison during the time period that the trial concerns.
The plaintiff had been brought to the so-called death corridor in Gohardasht prison on three occasions and stood before the death committee as many times. The plaintiff claimed to be well aware of the person that the prosecution claims is the defendant and had seen him a number of times during his incarceration at Gohardasht prison, including during the time period of the mass executions. On the table in front of the plaintiff in the courtroom in Durres, the plaintiff had placed a physical model of Gohardasht prison which he and the other plaintiffs based in Albania had designed and gotten manufactured. The model was frequently referred to during questioning, as the plaintiff used it to point out the different sections in the prison that he had been housed in, where the death committee had been located and where the executions took place.
Like many other plaintiffs before him, the plaintiff recounted how there were small signs that something was in the offing in the days before the mass executions began, as the TV was removed from their ward and restrictions were imposed on the inmates’ right to exercise in the prison yard. The plaintiff’s brother was part of one of the first groups of prisoners whose names were called and who were taken from the ward– as the plaintiff would later find out – to stand before the death committee and to then be executed. When speaking of his own experience of standing before the death committee, the plaintiff expressed regret at not having the “courage” to stand up for his beliefs and association with the MEK.
Aside from the physical model of Gohardasht prison on display in the courtroom in Durres, the plaintiff had also brought a few other items along. The plaintiff displayed both an example of the type of cable that was commonly used to whip inmates, particularly the soles of their feet, and of the type of makeshift tool that the prisoners had used to bend the metal bars covering the prison’s windows to get a better view of the outside surroundings. The plaintiff had also brought a blindfold similar to the one he and the other prisoners were made to wear in prison and displayed how he had adjusted it so that he had partial vision while sitting with his hands on his knees in the death corridor.
The plaintiff’s description of how he had been sat became a point of contention during the questioning from the defense team. The defense argued that the description included in the transcript of the plaintiff’s hearing with Swedish police differed from the description given in court – a notion which the plaintiff rejected and attributed to the language barrier. The chairman of the court, judge Tomas Zander, pointed out that it in the transcript of the plaintiff’s hearing with the Swedish police it was noted that the plaintiff had commented on the interpretation of his description by saying “I don’t understand”. The defense also brought up other perceived discrepancies in the statement given by the plaintiff to the Swedish police as well as to JVMI for their report on the 1988 mass executions. Among other things, the discrepancies included the role of the person that the prosecution claim is the defendant and the plaintiff’s description of the different sections of the prison that he had spent time in.
On Thursday morning, the proceedings continued with the hearing of Plaintiff 31. The hearing began with the plaintiff’s counsel, Ghita Hadding Wiberg, introducing the plaintiff and giving a brief overview of the plaintiff’s background. The plaintiff was arrested in 1981 for sympathizing with the MEK and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. He spent time incarcerated in both Evin prison and Gohardasht prison, being transferred to the latter five or six months prior to the mass executions in the summer of 1988. The plaintiff was brought to the so-called death corridor twice and stood before the death committee on both occasions. The plaintiff was very familiar with the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant and had encountered him on several occasions during his time in Gohardasht prison, including during the time period of the mass executions.
During the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff spoke of how he had first encountered the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant in Evin prison around 1981 – 1982, when the person was employed as a regular prison guard. As such, the plaintiff was already familiar with the person when he was transferred to Gohardasht prison years later.
One particular encounter occurred during the time period of the mass executions and on one of the occasions when the plaintiff had been brought to the so-called death corridor. The plaintiff described how, after hours of waiting in the corridor, him and other prisoners were asked by the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant to line up in a row facing the location where the executions took place. “To me it felt like the last minutes of my life” the plaintiff said and then described how the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant had then ordered them to turn around and sit down again. The plaintiff described it as the “death game” and described how the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant had smiled as he ordered them to sit. As the plaintiff spoke, the defendant sat smiling in the courtroom in Stockholm.
As has been the case in most hearings, the defense team focused their questioning on perceived discrepancies between the plaintiff’s hearing in court, his statement given to the Swedish police and the summary of his story as published by JVMI in their report about the 1988 mass executions. It was also noticeable that the defense, when discussing the physical appearance of the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant, reacted when the plaintiff described him as having an aquiline (“eagle-like”) nose – a term that the plaintiff who testified before him had also used (and which the plaintiff who testified the day after would use as well), but which had previously not been used by any plaintiff to describe the person in question.
The trial continued on Friday morning with the hearing of Plaintiff 32. The plaintiff’s testimony contains key information for the charges against the defendant, as he is the only plaintiff who claims to have been brought to the hall where the executions took place and to have witnessed executions taking place. After a few technical issues with the video link between Sweden and Albania, the proceedings eventually got going with the plaintiff’s counsel, Ghita Hadding Wiberg, giving a brief introduction of the plaintiff and his background. The plaintiff had been arrested in 1982, at the age of 25, for sympathizing with the MEK, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison some seventeen months after his arrest. The plaintiff spent time incarcerated in both Evin prison and Gohardasht prison and was finally released in 1994.
The plaintiff claims to have been well aware of the person who the prosecution claim is the defendant, and like many others he was brought to the so-called death corridor on several occasions. What stands out in the plaintiff’s account is the fact that he claims to have been brought to the hall where the executions took place and that he witnessed executions taking place. Therefore, this summary of his statement will focus on that particular part of the hearing with the plaintiff.
The plaintiff described how he, on the fourth and last time that he was brought to the so-called death corridor, on 9 August 1988, was eventually brought to a room at the end of the corridor which was located next to the hall where the executions took place. In the room, the plaintiff was surrounded by many other prisoners and watched as at least three groups of inmates were escorted into the hall where the executions took place and to which the doors were closed. When a fourth group was rounded up by guards, the plaintiff himself was told to “get up” by a guard and then followed the guard into the hall. From under his blindfold, the plaintiff could see bodies stacked on top of each other close to the stage where he would later observe executions taking place. The plaintiff described how he had found it difficult to remain standing after seeing the bodies and how a guard then removed his blindfold.
“Everything became dark in front of my eyes” the plaintiff stated. “I thought to myself, God, this scene I am witnessing, is it for real? Because what I witnessed was twelve members of the MEK, each standing on a chair and with a noose around their neck”.
The plaintiff then described how the group of twelve began shouting rallying cries like “death to Khomeini” and how members of the prison management, including the defendant, were shocked by their behavior. The plaintiff explained how one member of the prison management ordered the others to act and how the group of three or four moved towards the group and kicked out the chair from underneath three or four of the inmates due to be hanged. The plaintiff then described how the remaining inmates due to be hanged kicked out the chair’s underneath them by themselves. The plaintiff became clearly emotional as he recounted the memories of the executions and how he had also witnessed guards abuse the bodies of the hanged while shouting “death to the monafeqin”. After witnessing the executions and the abuse, the plaintiff had fainted, and his next recollection was getting water splashed in his face.
The defense team, unsurprisingly, focused in on perceived discrepancies between the statements made by the plaintiff in court regarding his observations in the hall where the executions took place and how the plaintiff’s observations are described in reports from JVMI and Amnesty and in an article published by the MEK. The defense argued that there are “great deviations” between all three and the statement given in court. In response, the plaintiff stated that “in my view, each version has looked at it from a certain perspective, from different angles. What I have told today is the complete story”.
As the courtroom in Durres was only available until 4 PM sharp, the court adjourned before the defense had been able to conclude their questioning of the plaintiff. An additional update will follow in next week’s report.
In our next report, we will provide a summary of the four hearings held this week.
A translated version of this report in Farsi can be found here.