Report 17: Hearing with the defendant pt. 1

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 four hearings held by video link from Albania during week 46. Those consisted of three plaintiff hearings and the first witness hearing during the trial. Furthermore, the previous report provided additional updates from two complementary plaintiff hearings that were held the same week. In this report we will summarize the first day and the beginning of the second day of the hearing with the defendant.

Day one of the hearing with the defendant

During the first day of the hearing with the defendant, the court corridors were once again packed with journalists interviewing plaintiffs and the plaintiff counsels and trying to sneakily record footage of the defendant inside the court room. The interest in the hearing was evident inside the courtroom too, where the audience was at least four times its size compared to previous days.

The court convened fifteen minutes after the scheduled start of the day but, once the court was seated, the audience was immediately asked to vacate the courtroom again as the defendant had asked for fifteen minutes in privacy to examine the module of the Gohardasht prison, which had been brought to Stockholm from Durres.

Once the court was gathered again, judge  Tomas Zander asked the defendant whether he wanted to initiate the hearing by speaking freely or whether he would like the prosecutor to lead the hearing. Defense counsel Thomas Söderqvist answered that the defendant would speak freely during the first day and added that “since he has been detained for two years, I know he has a lot to say”.

At the outset of his speech, the defendant explained that his counsels had advised against him speaking freely in court, but that he had pleaded with them to let him speak. He underscored that he has had to listen to the plaintiff’s versions of the events during the past four months in court and that he wanted to take the opportunity to present his view of the events. As he would do repeatedly during his hearing, the defendant explained that the accusations against him and the information presented about the 1988 mass executions were all lies. He then moved to express his gratitude to judge Tomas Zander for being so kind to him. “Every day when I walk into the courtroom I say ‘hej hej’ [hello in Swedish] and ‘godmorgon’ [good morning in Swedish] and you have always answered me politely… but you don’t need my gratitude, I know that you only do your job”.

While he the defendant claimed not to speak as a representative for the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people, he said that he wanted to defend the “holy legal system of Iran” against the accusations directed against it. With his speech, he said, he aimed to “put and end of 33 years of defamation and lies”. He then moved to address the “insults” directed against several key people within the Islamic republic by the plaintiffs during their hearings, such as Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi. By insulting them, the plaintiffs insulted the Iranian people, the defendant said. The defendant further described how it had felt as if “his world fell apart” and how his hands and legs had begun to shake when one of the plaintiffs had, supposedly, insulted the now deceased Major General Qasem Soleimani. Furthermore, the defendant deplored that the “dearest prosecutor of Iran” (Lajevardi, also known to some as “the Butcher of Evin”) had been insulted.

After this rather lengthy introduction, the defendant finally moved to describing himself, his background, and his professional and private life. Before these parts of his statement are presented, however, there are reasons to elaborate on the defendant’s choice of terms and names during the hearing.

Throughout the entire hearing, the defendant used the derogatory term “monafeqin” to describe the MEK and its members. He further consistently referred to the MEK and left-wing political groups as “gorohak” (“the little group”). Towards the end of the first trial day, the private counsel Kenneth Lewis objected against the defendant’s use of these terms, “if we can’t say anything, neither should he”. In previous hearings, several plaintiffs had been scolded by judge Zander when, for example, calling the Islamic Republic a “fascist state”. Judge Zander replied that it was a “correct statement by Kenneth Lewis. I ask you [the defendant] not to insult the political opponent… The organisation has a name, use it.”

Furthermore, the defendant claimed that there is no prison called Gohardasht in Iran, and that the term is a historical falsification, “if anybody would use that term in Iran, people would laugh”. Instead, the defendant consistently referred to the prison as Rajai-Shahr prison, after Iran’s former president Mohammad Ali-Rajai, who was assassinated in a bombing in 1981.

The defendant also repeatedly referred to himself in third person throughout the hearing, allegedly to help him stay focused.

The defendant’s life and background

The defendant described himself as a 61 years old “ordinary” Iranian citizen, born in Teheran. His family consists of his wife, his two children and three grandchildren. He also presented his family on his father’s side, where they were seven siblings. The defendant especially named one of his brothers who was “martyred” in the war between Iran and Iraq.

The defendant specifically highlighted the birth of his daughter, which supposedly took place on 7 Mordad 1367 (29 July 1988), the day before the prosecutor claims that the defendant participated in the mass execution of political prisoners in Gohardasht prison. The defendant claimed that he was on paternal leave for several months prior to and after his daughters’ birth, in accordance with Iranian customs at the time

The defendant was 17 years old when the Iranian revolution took place. The same year, he graduated from high school and started his military conscription. After 2 months of service in Teheran, he travelled to the Kurdish region of Iran to join the battle against Kurdish leftist political groups such as Hezb-e-Demokrat Kordestan-e Iran and Kommeleh, which the defendant referred to as “gorohak” (“little groups”). He spent two years in the region, out of which half of it was spent in Sanandaj. At this point, the war between Iraq and Iran had commenced, and the defendant would fight both against Iraqi forces and the political groups. His military service ended in the month of Khordad 1361 (May/June 1982), upon which he voluntarily joined the forces in Marivan on the border to Iraq in order to continue fighting Iraqi forces and the forces of the political groups.

He then returned to his home to rest for a while and applied for a position with the revolutionary prosecution authority in Teheran. Prior to receiving an answer, he once again volunteered to travel to the front, now as a member of the paramilitary “basij” militia. After three months at the front, he returned home and found an acceptance letter from the Revolutionary Prosecution Authority in Teheran. On 18 Esfand 1361 (9 March 1983), he started working for the authority as a guard in Evin Prison. The defendant explained that his title was guard, “negahban”, but that the prisoners would refer to him as “pasdar”. He underscored that being a “pasdar” was different than being a member of the revolutionary guard (“sepah pasadaran”). 

The defendant worked in the prison’s department 1, called the Learning Center, for one year. He claimed that he was assigned tasks like taking the prisoners to the toilet three times a day, take them for walks half an hour every day or to send them to the infirmary. “Besides the three routine toilet visits, the prisoners could press the ‘emergency lamp’. The prisoners used to give us a rough time and press it all the time. But I never got tired of my work, like some of the other guards did”. The defendant claimed to have known every prisoner by name and that he was like a friend to each and one of them. He further explained that he had been offered to take on an alias during his time in department 1, upon which he chose the name “Abbas”.

By summer of 1363, the defendant was transferred to the financial department (“daftar hesabdar”) of Evin prison. After approximately one year in the department, he started working at the “dadyari department” (“ghesmat dadyari”) of Evin prison and stayed there as an employee for eight years. The department was headed by a prosecutor, referred to as “dadyar” The defendant explained that there were both convicted prisoners and prisoners waiting for their sentence in Evin prison at the time. The dadyari department only handled convicted prisoners. His job was to process applications for leave from the prisoners and power of attorneys for their family members, amongst other things, and to prepare these for the “dadyar” who would ultimately make the decision.

He was asked about what alias he wanted in this department too and choose the name “Abbasi”. However, some knew him as “Hamid” or even “Noury”, while most prisoners knew him as “Hamid Abbasi”.  The defendant also named every boss that he had during his time in Evin prison. Some he claimed had passed away while the defendant was detained in Sweden, while the whereabouts of the others were unknown to him.

In 1370 (1991) the defendant filed his resignation. He needed to change his line of work to secure a larger income, due to his family situation. According to the defendant, however, his manager did not agree to him leaving his position altogether as he did such a good job. “I also thought it was hard to leave Evin, I had become kind of addicted to the prisoners”. The defendant and his manager therefore agreed that he would continue to work in the prison once a week. The defendant then continued to work on processing furlough applications and applications for family visits. “I was very good and professional… I dispatched a 1000 furlough applications. One of whom I helped many times is present in this court room. But is seems [naming himself in third person] never gets any gratitude for his work”.

After the defendant quit his job at Evin prison, he started financial work within the mining industry, where he got “really rich”. The defendant explained how he, by making a lot of money, managed to get three of his sisters married. He illustrated a picture of himself as somebody people, friends and family, came to for help “I solved every problem… whether it was about family or money. I was a good communicator”.

The defendant about his arrest in Sweden

The defendant further went on to explain how he ended up in Sweden on the day of his arrest, how he was arrested at the airport and then taken to detention, “only God knows how tough that was on me and what I’ve been through”. The defendant explained to the court that the Swedish police was a comfort for him and asked if he could mention their names. Judge Zander shrugged his shoulders and conferred with the prosecutors “if it is not SÄPO [the security police] I guess it’s okay?”. The defendant started to name the first – and surnames of fourteen Swedish police officers, saying that he “really miss them”. The defendant although seemed to, when continuing to talk about the Swedish police, have a somewhat ambivalent approach towards them. He claimed that they did not inform him about his right to remain silent during the first three months of his detention. “I have a lot I would like to say about things that they did to me… It was not a fair police hearing. But I am not sad, they did their job. I like every one of them. It was a difficult time.

The defendant’s explanation of the events for which he stands accused of

Contrary to the description of his role in the indictment, the defendant claims that he has never worked in Gohardasht prison but that he has only worked in Evin prison.

The defendant told the court that during the last two years in detention he has “mentally, lived in Rajai Shahr… I have figured out what this is all about” (The defendant uses the name “Rajai Shahr” for Gohardasht prison). During his time in detention, he has read the books that have been written by several of the plaintiffs and that have been invoked as evidence by the prosecutors. The defendant claimed that he now knows them by heart. His stance is that everything he stands accused of is a conspiracy made up by the MEK and left-wing organisations, led by one of the plaintiffs (who is a former MEK sympathizer) and one of the witnesses (who has sympathized with an Iranian left-wing organization)

The defendant continued by telling the court that he confirms the mass-executions in 1988. “It is true that there was a massacre in Mordad 1367 (1988), but the massacre took place at the front in Kermanshah and not in the prisons.” He explained that there were two mass executions during 1988. One of them was the massacre that the “monafeqins” (a derogatory term used by the defendant and the Islamic republic to describe the MEK) conducted on thousands of Iranian border guards, soldiers, and residents. The other one was the massacre of the MEK. Ayatollah Khomeini had ordered an attack and wrote the letter that would later, wrongfully according to the defendant, be called a fatwa. Khomeini ordered General Ali Sayyad Shirazi to gather his troops to defeat the MEK, “to not show them any mercy and to exterminate their generation” (“Nasleshono bekan”). After this alleged massacre at the front, the survivors of the MEK had to reiterate back to their camp in Iraq. According to the defendant, that is where they came up with this conspiracy about the mass-executions in the prisons, as an explanation for the relatives of the killed MEK-members in Kermanshah. The members of different left-wing groups then felt left out and were therefore offered to make a deal with the MEK in exchange for not revealing the truth. The defendant claimed that this can be seen, for an example, in the number of deaths, where the MEK always demonstrated twice the number of claimed executed members than the left-wing alignments. 

Day two of the defendant’s hearing

At the end of the first hearing with the defendant, which had been used entirely by the defendant himself to speak freely about whatever he wished, he turned to Judge Zander and asked for more time during the following day to continue to speak freely. After some negotiation, it was decided that the defendant would be allowed an hour and a half in the morning during the second day of the hearing to continue to speak freely.

In the morning of the second day of the hearing, plaintiff counsel Göran Hjalmarsson addressed the court to announce that his clients had reacted negatively to the use of words by the defendant during the previous day “Despite that the judge has emphasized that the organisation the defendant speaks about has a name [Mujahedin] and repeatedly asked for the trial to proceed with respect, the defendant still refers to the organisation as monafeqin. Several of my clients belonged to the organisation in 1988. The word means hypocrite, and using that word is not to show respect or dignity”. Judge Zander replied that the word “monafeqin” has also been used by plaintiffs to describe different events in prison. Zander explained that it is allowed to use the word to describe a specific event for which the term is necessary but that the defendant was not allowed to use the word in other instances “I have requested mutual respect, well aware that this case causes a lot of feelings”.

The defendant replied that there is no organisation in Iran called Mujahedin (MEK) and that there is no prison named Gohardasht. “If I use the word Gohardasht or Mujahedin and return to Iran, I will be arrested for using false names. I beg you to have consideration for my situation”. Zander told the defendant that he could use the word “organisation” or “group”.

The defendant proceeded to explain that he wanted to use his hour and a half to address several issues. He brought up the fact that the prosecutors had not been able to present documentation from the Iranian prison authorities to prove that the plaintiffs had in fact been incarcerated there. The defendant further expressed his disagreement with the description of the war between Iran and Iraq and that he wished that the court had requested an Iranian expert to present their view on the war. Furthermore, he addressed the prosecution’s claim regarding the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini and claimed that the document was in fact a letter and not a fatwa and that it was not even written by Ayatollah Khomeini. The defendant also expressed his skepticism regarding the second fatwa which, according to the prosecutors, concerned the left-wing group. He said that the issue of the first fatwa should be solved before a second fatwa is discussed. The defendant also claimed that both documents were missing a date and that only one of the documents wore a stamp and added: “Can it really be that the highest leader of the country labels one of the documents but not the other?

The defendant further wanted to discuss the hearings that had been conducted with relatives of executed prisoners previously during the trial. When he started to mockingly imitate these plaintiffs, the prosecutors objected. Judge Zander agreed with them and asked the defendant to refrain from defaming people. 

After the hour and a half requested by the defendant had come to an end, the court took a brief break, after which the trial continued with the prosecution’s hearing with the defendant.

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide an overview of the prosecution’s hearing with the defendant.

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