Report 16: Plaintiff Hearings pt. 10

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 three plaintiff hearings held by video link from Albania during week 45. The trial continued with four more hearings in the same procedure from the court room in Durres last week. During last Thursday there were also complementary hearings with plaintiff 32 and 34. In this report, we will summarize all four main hearings held last week as well as the complementary hearings.

Plaintiff 33

The plaintiff’s counsel Göran Hjalmarsson started with an introduction of the plaintiff and his background. The plaintiff was born in Teheran in 1966. When he was 14 years old, he was arrested for his involvement with the MEK. The plaintiff spent ten years in the three different prisons, Evin, Gohardasht and Ghezel Hesar. In the year 1986 he was moved to Gohardasht prison where he stayed until the beginning of 1989. The plaintiff was released from prison in 1991. During his time in Gohardasht, the plaintiff appeared before the death committee on several occasions. He also encountered the defendant on repeated instances.

The plaintiff described how information about the executions spread among the prisoners. He explained how the prisoners spent the nights communicating with each other between their cells, using morse code, to pass on information about who had been executed. “The lists of executed prisoners were so long. Nobody could handle more than a few names to knock before they had to let someone else take over. This continued until the middle of the night”. The plaintiff heard from other prisoners that the prison leaders had been seen pushing a wheelbarrow filled with ropes and another one with sandals and slippers.

During the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff recounted how he had been brought to the death corridor a total of six times and appeared before the death committee three times. Once, when the plaintiff had been taken to the death corridor, he had observed the person whom the prosecution claims is the defendant read out a list of names. He read out the same name several times without receiving an answer upon which he eventually got agitated and asked the prisoners what was going on. It was only then that he seemed to have realized that the person whose name he was reading out had been executed by mistake. The plaintiff recounted how he had himself shared a section with that prisoner whom was a student and served a 17-year long prison sentence.

The plaintiff shared other experiences from the death corridor. The plaintiff described how the person whom the prosecution claim is the defendant had a “wicked manner” and that he would intentionally deceive prisoners into thinking that they were about to be executed. He would line the prisoners up and have them wait in the corridor, only to take them back to their cells by the end of the day. One time, when the plaintiff himself was put in one of those lines, he thought that “today they will execute us all”. He explained before the court room how he had placed his hand on the shoulder of the person in front of him and clasped it, as a way to say goodbye. Similarly, the prisoners were instructed to move towards the execution hall but, when approaching it, were yelled at to turn around and walk the other way.  

The plaintiff was asked by the prosecutors how he reacted when he found out that the defendant had been arrested. He said that he had felt very happy and that he could never have imagined that he would be arrested. When the plaintiff was told to have a look at the smiling defendant in the court room to see if he recognized him, he responded that there was no doubt that he was the same person that he had seen in prison. “He used to insult his enemies, disparage them, and this smile is exactly the same smile that he had back then.” Upon questions from the prosecution, the plaintiff also described how the prisoners reacted when they understood that mass executions  were ongoing:. “We had mixed feelings… On the one hand, everyone knew and were preparing for death. On the other hand, we tried to keep appearances up to not collapse psychologically. Fellow prisoners joked about the size of their necks.” After the execution period, the plaintiff together with other survivors were moved to Evin prison.

During the defense team’s questioning of the plaintiff, he was asked whether he had participated in creating the model of the Gohardasht prison that has been showcased in the court room, or in the creation of the animated movie that has been showed previously during the trial to demonstrate the inside of Gohardasht prison. The defense also asked if the plaintiff had read the books that has been written by former Gohardasht prisoners. The plaintiff answered that he had read some of the books in part but that he had not been a part of creating the Gohardasht model. However, he did participate in the making of the movie.

Plaintiff 34

As in previous hearings, the plaintiff’s counsel, Göran Hjalmarsson, started off with a short presentation of the plaintiff’s background and experiences that are relevant to the case. The plaintiff was born in Iran 1963. He was arrested in 1361 according to the Persian calendar (1982) and sentenced to ten years in prison for his involvement with the MEK. In April 1986 the plaintiff was transferred to Gohardasht prison. He remained there about 1-2 months after the mass executions, upon which he was moved to Evin prison. The plaintiff was released in March 1991. The plaintiff encountered the defendant before, during and after the executions and was brought before the death committee on one occasion.

After judge Zander opened the hearing, the defendant asked for permission to speak. He asked that the model of Gohardasht prison, which was present in the court room in Durres, be brought to Stockholm. He said that he wanted the model to be present when he was to be heard the following week. Judge Zander replied that this was “a very wise point of view”. The question was mainly directed to counsel Kenneth Lewis, whose clients have created the model. Kenneth Lewis answered that “they will try, but the model is very fragile.”

At the outset of the prosecution’s questioning, the plaintiff began by speaking in general terms about the transfer of prisoners between prisons. This led to reprimands from judge Zander, who said that what prisoners had experienced as a group was not of the court’s interest and asked the plaintiff to only speak from his own experiences and observations.

The plaintiff recounted his experiences from the so-called death corridor. He explained that prisoners, whom all wore blindfolds, were sitting on the floor on both sides of the corridor. When the defendant appeared in the corridor, the plaintiff recognized his voice. The plaintiff recalled how the defendant had read names of prisoners out loud and how the plaintiff had folded up his blindfold upon hearing his voice, in order to have a look at him. From his position in the room, the was able to watch him closely. Once  the defendant had finished reading out the names, he approached each prisoner that he had named and told the guards to “take him to his department”. The plaintiff later understood that this term was used as a “code” and meant that the prisoner was about to be executed. One of the names that the defendant read, was a friend of the plaintiff. When the plaintiff heard his friend’s name, he got in line behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “I somehow wanted to follow him wherever he was going… we were all aware that anybody who walked in that direction was headed for execution”.

Before the defense team commenced with their questioning of the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s counsel Göran Hjalmarsson took the floor to ask his client how the prisoners felt when they found out about the executions. The plaintiff explained that the prisoners “always felt the shadow of death” but that the absence of his loved ones is what he experienced as most painful.

The defense team proceeded to ask the plaintiff about 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. The defense team particularly focused on a comment made by the plaintiff about the shape of the defendant’s nose, when asked to describe the appearance of the defendant.  The plaintiff described his nose as “pointy”, which provoked further questions from the defense. It was not until the plaintiff reverted to describing the nose as aquiline (“eagle-like”) that the defense seemed satisfied with his answer.

As was the case with plaintiff 32 last week, the court adjourned the hearing before it was finished. This was due to the courtroom in Durres only being available until 4 PM sharp. An additional hearing with the plaintiff was held the following Thursday. The plaintiff had brought a green coat in a “military-model” to Durres which he showed before the court. He claimed that it was the same model as the defendant always wore above his regular clothes when working in prison.

Plaintiff 35

The hearing began with the plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis announcing before the court that the model of Gohardasht prison, that have been used in Durres to demonstrate the building, will be transferred to Stockholm District Court, as requested by the defendant previously.

The plaintiff’s court appointed counsel, Ghita Hadding Wiberg, began with a brief presentation of her client. The plaintiff was born 1964 in Iran. He was arrested in 1982 because of his involvement with the MEK. He was then released in 1986 but was arrested again shortly after, again because of his sympathies for the MEK. In 1987, the plaintiff was transferred from Evin prison to Gohardasht prison. After the mass executions had taken place, he was moved back to Evin until his release in 1993. The plaintiff was taken to the so-called death corridor four times and stood before the death committee on two occasions. He was one of the first prisoners to be taken there. The plaintiff also encountered the defendant several times. The plaintiff has written a book about his experiences from Gohardasht and Evin prison. This book has in part been referred to as evidence by the prosecutors in this case.

Like other plaintiffs before him, plaintiff 35 described how he, when standing before the death committee, was told that they were a “pardon committee”. When the leader of the committee had asked if the plaintiff did not want to be released, the other members of the committee had laughed. The plaintiff also described how he had adjusted the blindfold that the prisoners were forced to wear, so that he could see through it. According to the plaintiff, this was something that all prisoners used to do. That way, when standing in front of the committee, he could see everyone in the room. When the plaintiff testified about being asked by the committee what he was accused of, he was clearly struggling with his memories and feelings. “I did not have the courage, like many of my friends, to stand up for my beliefs”, meaning he denied his sympathies for the MEK.

The plaintiff also survived his second meeting with the death committee. Afterwards, he was taken to the corridor outside. That day, many of the plaintiff’s friends had been brought to the corridor. At this point in time, they had all understood that executions were on-going. Since there were not that many guards around, they could talk quite freely and would joke about going to heaven. One of the plaintiff’s friends suggested that they should sing a rallying anthem. During the hearing, the plaintiff quoted the lyrics of the song, which was about freedom and how the prisoners would be able to enjoy it after death. Subsequently, the atmosphere in the court room became very emotional, and as one of the prosecutors commenced with the hearing, it was evident that she had been affected by the words that had been uttered. The plaintiff was further asked about the book that he had written. He explained that the book is based mainly on his own experiences and memories. The plaintiff told the court that he started to work on the book already in prison, by writing down names and dates of the executions on bits of paper which he and his friends hid in their shoe soles. That way they could bring the information out of prison.

The plaintiff’s counsel Gita Hadding Wiberg asked him about his feelings and state of mind during and after the period of executions. The plaintiff said that he felt both anxiety and shame. He was sure that he was going to be executed as well and had been afraid. He also felt as if he had let his friends down by not standing up for his political point of view. “The day I found out about how many they had executed, the world turned black”. The plaintiff told the court that the only thing that alleviates his grief, is to continue to engage in the struggle of his friends who died the martyr death.

The defense team asked during its hearing with the plaintiff whether the plaintiff had followed the trial prior to his own hearing, whether he is still an active member of the MEK and whether he had participated in the creation of the model of the Gohardasht prison which had been demonstrated in court. The plaintiff was also asked if he contributed to the making of the animated movie of the Gohardasht prison that has been shown during the trial and when this movie was made. The plaintiff explained that they, himself included, started making the movie during the initial parts of the trial. “We noticed that Stockholm did not understand [how the prison was designed]… We wanted to help the court”.

Witness 1

On Thursday morning last week, a witness was heard for the first time throughout the trial proceedings.  Under Swedish legislation, witnesses do not have the right to a legal counsel and, as such, Witness 1 was not represented by a counsel. Furthermore, witnesses are not allowed to follow the procedure before their own hearing and are obliged to take an oath before the commencement of their hearing.

The witness was arrested in 1361 according to the Persian calendar (1982), due to his involvement with the MEK. In 1362 (1983) the witness was moved to Ghezel Hesar prison. He was then transferred to Gohardasht prison where he stayed until 1367 (1988). After the executions, he was taken to Evin prison together with other survivors and was released in 1371 (1992). During the prosecutor’s questioning, the witness was asked about his observations about the defendant from his time in Gohardasht prison. The witness said that he had encountered the defendant approximately 5-6 times, but that he had never spoken to him in person. The witness noted, however, that the prisoners “always felt his presence”. The witness recalled one particular event when he was in a group of prisoners that was taken to a room that they referred to as the “the gas chamber”. The room was poorly ventilated and as the oxygen evaporated, the prisoners almost became unconscious. When the prisoners were finally taken out of the room, the guards had positioned themselves in the shape of a “tunnel”, which the prisoners had to walk through. While walking through this “tunnel”, prisoners were beaten with different objects by guards on both sides of the corridor. During the beating, the witness had heard the person whom the prosecution claim is the defendant, saying things like “hit these monafeqins, so that they learn to behave”. The witness continued to describe another harrowing occasion. He and a group of other prisoners had witnessed two trucks driving through the prison area. Loaded on one of these trucks were see-through bags with approximately 30 dead bodies. As the witness watched the scene, guards were climbing on top of the bodies to cover the truck bed with a tarp. The witness was clearly distressed while recalling these memories in court.

The defense team initiated their questioning by asking the witness if he had been following the trial prior to his own hearing in court. The witness answered that he had avoided taking part of information about what had been said during the trial, as he had been told to do so. The defense team brought up several perceived discrepancies between the witness’ hearing in court and his statement given to the Swedish police. The defense counsel’s had a somewhat agitated approach towards the witnesses and at one point, judge Tomas Zander told defense counsel Thomas Söderqvist to “go through the hearing correctly” and to “stop moaning and groaning”.

The atmosphere in court was overall strained on this day and judge Tomas Zander intervened in the hearing with the witness repeatedly, to tell him to limit his answers to the questions that he had been asked: “I have to interrupt… maybe there is something wrong with the interpretation because otherwise it makes no sense to me that you cannot answer such a simple question”. Furthermore, the prosecutor was scolded by Zander when she tried to intervene during the hearing by the defense team, and one of the interpreters was told that “this is not a guessing name” when beginning one of his translated sentences by saying “if I got this right…”.

This hearing was supposed to end at 12.00 that day, but because of, amongst other things, technical irregularities it was prolonged another hour.

Complementary hearing plaintiff 32

As described in our previous report, the defense team’s hearing with plaintiff 32 was interrupted last week and postponed to this week due to the fact that the courtroom in Durres had to be closed at 4 PM sharp. The following is a brief summary of some of the key points from the defense team’s further questioning of plaintiff 32.

The defense focused its questioning on the plaintiff’s observations from the execution room, which he had recounted to the court during the previous week. The defense counsels claimed that the plaintiff had not mentioned the defendant when allowed to speak freely of the events during his hearing with the Swedish police, and that the name of the defendant had only been mentioned upon a direct question by the police. The plaintiff answered that he might have forgotten to mention the defendant’s name during the hearing, but that he had mentioned the defendant when talking about the event before.

The plaintiff’s court appointed counsel, Ghita Hadding Wiberg, asked the plaintiff about the defendant’s position in Gohardasht. The plaintiff answered that the defendant was the prison prosecutor’s assistant. The other plaintiff counsels refrained from asking the plaintiff any questions. The prosecutors twice attempted to interrupt the questioning by the defense team with questions of their own, but was told by Judge Zander to instead request a complementary hearing, since this one was reserved for the defense team. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide an overview of the hearing with the defendant held this week.

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