Report 18: Hearing with the defendant pt. 2

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 hearing with the defendant that took place on 23 and 25 November, during which the defendant was allowed to speak freely. In this report, we will provide a summary of the prosecution’s hearing with the defendant during the 25, 26 and 29 November and 1 December

Prosecution’s hearing with the defendant on 25 November

As mentioned in our previous report (LINK), the first day of the prosecution’s hearing with the defendant was initiated with a freely told account by the defendant, as requested by him the previous trial day.

After a short break, prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson began her questioning of the defendant with questions about his upbringing. He was asked questions about where he was born, whether he grew up in a house or an apartment and whether he was politically active in school. The defendant responded that he was raised in an apartment in Teheran, that he was not very politically interested but very religiously engaged.

The prosecutor continued by asking the defendant about his career in Evin prison and what had made him want to apply for a job in a revolutionary authority. The defendant replied that it was because of his “love for the revolution”. When asked about political prisoners at Evin, the defendant answered that there were no political prisoners in Iran and added that “if I mention political prisoners I will be in trouble, maybe you mean prisoners that belonged to the so-called groups or sects… In that case, very few were ‘ordinary’ prisoners”. When asked about his tasks in Evin prison, the defendant objected to a question about whether he would bring prisoners to hearings and responded that he would only send them to hearings by handing them over to other guards. That same guard, according to the defendant, would later bring the prisoner back to him, upon which he would take the prisoner back to his cell. The defendant said that he, before handing the prisoner over, would give the prisoner a blindfold. He explained that the blindfold ”actually was a really good idea. They had killed people; their impure eyes should not be able to see everywhere. With those eyes, they had seen people wearing a beard, like me, and killed them.”

The prosecutor asked several questions regarding the treatment of prisoners in Evin. The defendant replied that they had an excellent treatment. Those who worked in Evin had to go through an education and were told to treat the prisoners gently. According to the defendant, the prisoners were never tortured. When asked how he knew this, the defendant said that since he was the one who brought the prisoners back to their cells after they had been interrogated, he could see that they were unharmed.

The defendant was also asked if prisoners were executed during his time in Evin. The defendant said it happened and that he knew this since he had heard prisoners being asked to bring all their belongings. According to the defendant, the prisoner would then say goodbye to him, and the defendant would cry. The prosecutor continued the hearing by asking the defendant about whether punishments would be carried out in Evin prison. The defendant replied that flogging sometimes occurs in prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is done to everyone that lies, in accordance with sharia law. Referring to the defendant’s previous answer, where he said that prisoners were unharmed when returning from interrogations, the prosecutor asked if the defendant did not see that the prisoners were hurt when they had been flogged. The defendant answered that “they are so proud, even if they had been hurt, they still walked as steady as they could.” Using morse code or peeking through the blindfolds were actions that would render punishment according to the defendant. Although not physical, but rather consisted of solitary confinement or withdrawn furloughs or family visits.

The prosecutor then moved on to the defendant’s appearance, which the plaintiffs had been asked to comment during their hearings. The defendant said that he wore monochrome olive-green clothes and boots. When working at the financial department he was “dressed like a civilian – handsome, suit and nice shoes. Sometimes I wore sportswear. Our boss was very strict with how we dressed and looked very good himself”. Besides the clothing, the defendant described himself as thin and that he always wore a beard of various lengths.  When asked how many times he was sent to work in Gohardasht prison during his employment in Evin prison, he responded that he thinks that he was there 4-6 times during the years 1364-1367 (1985-1988).

Prosecution’s hearing with the defendant on 26 November

The third day of the hearing with the defendant was opened with a statement by Judge Zander regarding the scheduling of the hearings. Zander announced that the court was currently behind schedule and that a hearing with a witness scheduled for Wednesday during the following week would be postponed to December 15 to make room for further hearings with the defendant.

The floor was then handed over to the prosecution, for it to continue its questioning of the defendant. The prosecution asked the defendant about the furlough-system in Evin prison, and if the prisoners had to leave bail to get a furlough. The defendant explained that, when he worked with furloughs, his duty was to take instructions from his boss, the “dadyar”, regarding the size and type of bail required for a prisoner and to contact the prisoner’s family members to forward the instructions. The family members would then show up with a bonds man or a title deed for their property, upon which the defendant would process the documents and prepare them for a decision by the “dadyar”. The defendant underscored that the collected title deeds were never sent to the relevant authority for registration, but that it would simply be returned to the family once the prisoner returned from his or her furlough. One of his bosses, however, was more meticulous and required that all title deeds be sent for registration with the registrar.

When asked by the prosecution about whether the same procedure applied when a prisoner was being processed for release, the defendant explained that a specific routine would apply to prisoners who were expected to continue engaging in “mischief” once released. The release of such prisoners would be handled by a specific unit within Teheran’s prosecution authority, called the “Monitoring Unit”.  The unit would hold on to a title deed or surety bond and would require the prisoner to visit the unit once or twice a month. During these visits, the unit would ask the former prisoners about their lives, such as whether they had gotten any children or gotten married and would provide the former prisoners with advice. According to the defendant, this could go on for approximately 2-3 years until the title deed or surety bond was finally returned.

The prosecution further asked what the procedure would be if a former prisoner would leave the country while under the supervision of the monitoring unit. The defendant responded that the family would be contacted and asked about the whereabouts of the former prisoner and asked to forward the message to the former prisoner that he or she should visit the unit. If the former prisoner did not show up, it would be reported to the prosecutor that the former prisoner had left the country, become an asylum seeker somewhere and started engaging in political activities against the Iranian government and the surety bond could be confiscated.

The prosecutor further asked the defendant about the interviews with prisoners that were made in connection to them being released from prison. The defendant explained to the court that these interviews had to be done for a prisoner to be released. The procedure would start when a prisoner had said in court that he or she no longer formed part of the political group which he or she belonged to before. The prisoner would then be asked to participate in an interview. During the interview the prisoner was expected to speak of his or her “mistakes” and express regret. The interviews would usually be conducted by someone who Teheran’s chief prosecutor, Asadollah Lajevardi, had appointed to the task. The interviews were “collective” in the sense that a group of prisoners would attend and witness the interrogation of a prisoner. The defendant claimed that this served as entertainment for the prisoners, as it would be an opportunity for prisoners to leave their cells and meet other prisoners. Some of these interviews were also broadcasted on TV. The prosecutor mentioned that several plaintiffs that testified that they had seen the defendant during such interviews in 1367 (1988). The defendant replied that this is a rumor one of the plaintiffs have spread through his book. He further claimed that, during one of his visits in Gohardasht prison, he had met another guard who asked him to join and watch a collective interview of prisoners. The defendant had sat down next to the guard and later found out that the guard used the same alias as he did. 

In previous hearings, several plaintiffs have told the court that they had been moved from Evin prison to Gohardasht in 1366, before the mass executions. When asked about this by the prosecutor, the defendant answered that “I know just as much as you, but a little bit more”. He attributed this knowledge to the reading of the plaintiff’s books that he has done while in detention. The prosecutor said that she found it strange that the defendant would not have noticed that 200 prisoners were transferred from the prison where he was working in the dadyari department. The defendant insisted that he had not noticed, as it was not part of his responsibility.

During the hearing, the prosecution mentioned several incidents that plaintiffs had previously testified had taken place in Gohardasht prison and that the defendant allegedly had played a part in.  Amongst other things, plaintiffs had recounted how the defendant had kicked a prisoner’s leg after learning that his leg hurt, watched prisoners being taken to the so-called gas chamber, hit a prisoner in the head with a glass and refused family visits for a prisoner who had tried to stop an ongoing beating of another prisoner. The defendant response was that the plaintiffs were lying and that he had never hurt a fly in his entire life. He further claimed to never have been in Gohardasht prison and that the statements were all part of the conspiracy against him, led by one of the plaintiffs.

Prosecution’s hearing with the defendant on 29 November

The prosecution’s hearing with the defendant continued 29 November and was opened with a question about the mass-executions in Gohardasht prison. In previous hearings, the defendant had said that the massacres had taken place on the war front in battles between Iran and the MEK rather than in the prison. The prosecution thus asked if the relatives of the allegedly killed combatants were not aware that members of their family had been killed in the war, and why the MEK would feel obliged to come up with a story about them being massacred in Gohardasht prison instead. The defendant responded that it was because MEK sympathisers had been promised by the organisation they would win the battle and that they needed someone else to blame when they lost. When asked about the motives of the sympathisers of left-wing organisations to join this “falsified story”, the defendant said it was because they “also wanted to be a part of the game”. 

The prosecution further asked whether the family members of executed prisoners who are plaintiffs in this case, and who have brought death certificates, letters, and photos to court, were also part of the conspiracy or whether they were simply misinformed. The defendant replied that he accepts that some prisoners may have been executed in prison, but not that it happened within the framework of mass executions in Gohardasht prison. He continued his reasoning, explaining that death certificates do not show if a person has been executed or not. The families of executed persons themselves ask the prison not to write this on the certificate, the defendant claimed.  Due to the stigma that families of executed prisoners face by Iranian authorities. Since the defendant had accepted that some prisoners might have been executed in prison, although not in a massacre, the prosecution asked whether they had been executed because they belonged to a certain political group. The defendant replied that it was not due to their sympathies of a political group, but because of their criminal actions against the Iranian people. 

The defendant was asked if he, before he got arrested in Sweden, was aware of the accusations from families regarding a mass execution of sympathisers of the MEK and left-wing organisations in 1367 (1988). The defendant explained that he was. When he returned from his paternal leave after his daughter’s birth, he had heard some rumors. The rumors were not about a mass execution but, for example, about withdrawn visits for the prisoner’s families. The defendant further said that he did hear stories about executions in Iranian prisons during the following years. In the newspapers published by the MEK, he had read names of individuals which the MEK claimed were complicit in the executions. The defendant had seen his own alias mentioned among other names and explained that it was “not my own name, but a name like my own. It said that he had been a tormentor… It actually didn’t matter to me since I knew it was all made up.” The defendant also told the court that he collected all the information he received about this in a cover on the desk in his office. According to the defendant, he did this of no specific reason other than his interest in world politics.

Regarding the rumors that the defendant had heard when he got back from paternal leave, he told the court that they concerned a planned coup between MEK-members inside and outside of prison. They had planned that the prisoners would attack the prison guards, kill them, and set themselves free while the MEK conducted its attack against state forces on the front. According to the defendant, the prisoners had confessed this plan to the prison management, which is why the visits had been withdrawn and the TV removed. The defendant further claimed that he does not know whether his manager was aware about the planned attack, but that he had not wanted to tell him because he was afraid that his manager would harm the prisoners.

The prosecution moved on to ask the defendant whether his version of the events coincide with the official version of the events as told by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The defendant replied that there is no need for Iran to answer to this “nonsense”. Instead, those who talk about this “made-up story” are international organisations who, according to the defendant, rely on the MEK. The reason he himself has been accused of these crimes is due to Plaintiff 1, who the defendant claims is the leader of the conspiracy.  He has threatened the other plaintiffs and members of the MEK to also direct accusations against the defendant. The defendant explained to the court that, after he was arrested in Sweden, the plaintiffs, under the guidance of the “leader plaintiff”, had assigned him a fictious leading role in what the defendant claims is a made-up history. When asked about an explanation to why he had been mentioned as a person working in Gohardasht prison at the time of the mass executions in interviews by the Iran Tribunal and JVMI, and in books and movies prior to his arrest in Sweden, the defendant again put the blame on the “leader plaintiff” (Plaintiff 1). This plaintiff has written a book in which the defendant was mentioned, and this information has later been copied by others, claimed the defendant.

The prosecutor told the court that there are ten dates from 1367 (1988) during which different plaintiffs claimed to have seen the defendant in Gohardasht prison. The defendant replied that they are all lying, and that he has been waiting for this question and that he has an explanation for each date. When the prosecutor said that she only needs him to say whether he believes that the plaintiffs are lying, the judge objected. “This questioning is strange to say the least. If you line up evidentiary facts that you ask him to comment, you have to let him do so”. The prosecutors then decided to move on to other questions.

The defendant was further asked whether he believes that the MEK collaborated with Iraq during the attacks against Iran in 1367 (1988). The defendant explained that he does not, since both Iran and Iraq had agreed to a ceasefire and Ayatollah Khomeini had explained that the war was over. The prosecutor then brought up a perceived discrepancy between the statement given by the defendant to the Swedish police and his testimony in court. During the police hearing, the defendant had said that “every time Iraq attacked Iran they were helped by the group [the MEK] … the group conducted an attack in 1367, with the help of Iraqi troops…”. The defendant reacted by explaining that what he had said now in court was the same thing as he had said during the hearing but that the question was how the term “support” was defined. His stance is that Iraq allowed for the MEK to attack but was not a part of the attack itself.

Towards the end of the hearing, the prosecution again asked the defendant about the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1367 (1988). The prosecution showed a picture of the fatwa and asked whether the defendant believes that it is Khomeini who is the author of the fatwa. The defendant told the prosecutor not to put words in his mouth. The defendant first underscored that he does not believe that it is a fatwa, but a letter. According to the defendant, the document showed by the prosecution has been published in a book written by Ayatollah Montazeri, (who is often mentioned as the intended successor of Ayatollah Khomeini but whom allegedly had a fall out with the latter over the 1988 mass executions and eventually spent years in house arrest).  The defendant is not sure that Montazeri is in fact the author of the book, since Montazeri has disclosed facts in interviews that contradict statements made in the book. In the book it is said that it is not certain who has written “the letter”, but that it has been ascribed to Khomeini. Due to this uncertainty of its origin, the defendant meant that the document cannot be used as evidence. The prosecution then continued, asking the defendant about the backside of the document. On this side of the document, it says that every prisoner that insist on his support to the MEK should be executed. This side of the document also wears Khomeini’s seal. The defendant replied that in Khomeini’s testimony,” which you can actually find online”, it says that the Iranian people should never accept anything that is published in his name after his death. “What a sensible man he was, he predicted all these eventualities.”

Prosecution’s hearing with the defendant on 1 December

The fifth day of the hearing with the defendant was opened with a statement by Judge Zander regarding the upcoming witness hearings. As Zander had announced earlier, the court was behind schedule. Therefore, the witness hearings that were supposed to be held that day and the following day were postponed until 15 December and 21 February to make room for further hearings with the defendant. The prosecutors had until lunch time on 1 December to finalize their hearing with the defendant.

Prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carlesson began the questioning of the defendant by mentioning a letter that Montazeri supposedly wrote to Ayatollah Khomeini in 1367. In this letter, Montazeri allegedly criticized the executions of prisoners, as they were conducted without warning and without the prisoners being convicted of any crimes. The prosecutor asked the defendant, since he had previously said in court that he has a great knowledge of Iranian criminal law, whether he thinks it would be in accordance with the law to execute prisoners that are already serving prison sentences for their crimes. The defendant answered that since Montazeri had turned against the Iranian revolution in 1368 (1989), he lacks any legitimacy among the Iranian people. Regarding the executions, the defendant said that they would not be in accordance with the law.  He added, however, that if a criminal had committed new crimes in prison, execution of that prisoner could be an accurate punishment.

During the hearing, the prosecution showed, as a statement of evidence, a picture with information regarding an audio file from August 2016. The audio file was supposedly recorded during a meeting with Hussein-Ali Montazeri and members of the so-called death committee and had been published by Montazeri’s son. The defendant was asked whether he had ever heard this audio file. He was also asked to comment Montazeri’s criticism of the fact that the prisoners were deceived to believe that the so-called death committee was actually a “pardon committee”. The defendant replied that he had heard parts of it, but that the quality of the sound was so bad that it was not possible to understand what was being said. He also said that he would have recognized Montazeri’s voice, which he did not in this audio file.

The defendant was also showed a picture demonstrating that Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, an Iranian politician and supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, during a Friday prayer had said that every sympathiser of the MEK should be executed without exceptions. The defendant said that he might have been there watching the Friday prayer, and that he was sure this was not what Ardebili had said. The defendant claimed that it was the people listening to Ardebili that had chanted “death to the MEK” but that Ardebili had only said that the judicial system in Iran was under pressure from the people to act against such political groups.

The prosecution asked the defendant about an Iranian article that was published in 1988, where Ardebili requested the judicial system to take action against groups consisting of apostates and “monafeqin”. The defendant responded: “Apostates should receive rough treatment. Iran is tough on the so called moharebs”. The defendant further explained that people that are “mohareb” are people who wage a war against God while apostates are people who have announced that they are no longer Muslim or a believer. “Proving that [someone is an apostate] is very hard. There are many [apostates] in Iran today, nobody does anything to harm them.”

The prosecution moved on to ask the defendant where a relative of an executed prisoner had to go to collect the body of his or her family member. The defendant replied that it was the “Implementation Section” that was responsible for the executions. After an execution was completed, the section would contact the prisoner’s family members. If the family “was calm”, the body would be handed over to the family for burial. If the family did not accept the punishment, the authorities would bury the body in a graveyard by the name of “Behesht-e Zahra” in Teheran and later inform the family about the number of the grave where their family member was buried. “All burials of Muslims were handled with great respect”. The defendant was then showed a picture of a mass grave, published in the Amnesty report “Blood-Soaked Secrets” from 2018, and asked if he was aware of its existence. The defendant answered “No because it does not exist. I never heard anything about it”.

The defendant was asked if he remembered an incident where one of the plaintiffs was brought to the defendant’s office in Evin prison, where he was beaten for making a sarcastic remark while watching a televised poetry being read in connection to Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. The plaintiff had then accidentally caught a glimpse of the defendant’s work ID with the name “Hamid Noury” on it. The defendant replied that the incident was made up and that Plaintiff 1, who he had previously referred to as the “leader plaintiff” had written about it in his book.  The defendant explained that he had met at least 8000 prisoners during his time in Evin prison, so there is a possibility that the plaintiff may have seen him there, but that the described situation had never taken place. 

On the topic of the defendant’s name and alias, the prosecution questioned him about an invitation to celebrate Eid Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) that he had sent to several people who worked or had worked in Evin prison. The defendant explained that this was a tradition among colleagues, and that he had invited 200 people for dinner that year who were mainly staff from Evin prison. The prosecution brought up the fact that the defendant had signed the invitation “Hamid Noury (Abbasi)” and wondered how the guests could know that this was him, as the defendant had earlier explained that there were other staff called “Abbasi” working in the prison. The defendant replied that some of his colleagues knew him as Hamid Noury while some knew him as Abbasi.

Next Report

In our next report, we will provide an overview of the defense team and plaintiff counsels’ hearings with the defendant.

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