Report 19: Hearing with the defendant pt. 3

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 prosecution’s hearing with the defendant that took place on 25, 26 and 29 November and 1 December. In this report, we will provide a summary of hearings with the defendant by the defense counsels and the plaintiff counsels during 1 and 2 December. 

The plaintiff counsels’ hearing with the defendant on 1 December 

The prosecution finalized its hearing with the defendant during the first half of the day on 1 December. After a lunch break, the plaintiff counsels’ hearings with the defendant commenced. 

Plaintiff counsel Bengt Hesselberg was the first of the plaintiff counsels to question the defendant. He asked the defendant how many times he had been at Gohardasht prison, upon which the defendant replied that he had visited the prison 7-8 times between 1364-1372 (1985-1993). The plaintiff counsel then asked whether the defendant ever held meetings with prisoners at the “Dadyari” department of Gohardasht prison, and if he did, what kind of meetings those were. The defendant answered that “they [the prisoners] would file an application. I would call them to the Dadyari and listen to what they had to say. I would write it down, and when we were done, I would go back to Evin prison to report this to my manager”. The counsel then questioned the defendant about a perceived discrepancy between what he said to the court and the statement that he had previously given to the Swedish police. According to the record from his hearing with the police, the defendant had said during the police hearing that he had never worked in Gohardasht prison and that he had only visited a couple of times. The defendant responded that his statement had not been correctly recorded and that there had been difficulties with the interpretation during the police hearing. He had only said to the police that his actual workplace was not at “Rajai Shahr” (which is the name that the defendant used to refer to Gohardasht prison throughout the entirety of the hearing). 

Hesselberg continued questioning the defendant about the “collective interviews”, that he had spoken about and that the prosecution had asked him about in previous court hearings (see report 18). The defendant explained that he visited Gohardasht prison once or twice when the collective interviews were held, during which he had met another staff member which he later found out also went by the name Hamid Abbasi. The counsel asked the defendant if the ”two Hamid Abbasi” sat next to each other during the interview, and if the defendant did not consider this to be a strange coincidence. The defendant answered that prisoners did not dare ask the guards who they were and that he was not sure whether the prisoners knew of his or the other guard’s name. Neither did the defendant know, he said, that they were both called Hamid Abbasi until some twenty years later. 

The defendant was further asked whether he thought that the prisoners could see through the blindfolds that they were forced to wear in prison. The defendant replied that they could see 1-2 meters beyond their feet, so that they could walk without falling. According to the defendant the worst punishment would be given to those who had tried to look through their blindfolds. The counsel then reminded the defendant that he had gotten a question from the Swedish police about how he would react if a prisoner tried to look through his blindfold. The police had written a memo on how the defendant reacted to this question. The defendant replied that he had answered the police in a “hypothetical and ironic” way and that he had said “if a prisoner did not accept this rule, he would maybe have been hit in his head”. The defendant also told the court room that he was very disappointed with the Swedish police for making this, in his opinion, wrongful interpretation of his answer to the question. 

The plaintiff counsel further asked the defendant about the audio file which was supposedly recorded during a meeting with Ayatollah Montazeri and members of the so-called death committee (mentioned in our previous report 18). The counsel confronted the defendant with a statement allegedly made by Naserian, who was then assistant prosecutor of Evin Prison and member of the death committee, on the recorded audio file, where he explains that the defendant was employed by Naserian as a department manager. The defendant answered that the audio file was ”made-up”, and that “not even the prosecution has referred to it as evidence”. When told by the judge to answer the question about whether he in fact held a position as department manager or not, the defendant replied “absolutely not, I was just an ordinary poor official. But very skilled.”

The plaintiff counsel moved on to ask the defendant about information that had been found in his cellphone. First, Hesselberg asked why there was a picture of Abolqasem Salavati, who is a judge in the revolutionary court of Teheran and who has been imposed with sanctions from both the European Union and USA due to his activities in Iran. The defendant answered that he had never been in contact with Salavati but that he was one of the best judges in Iran. “The police have collected 3000 phone numbers [from me], but I don’t have his. If the police can prove that I’ve been in contact with him, I would be honored”. The defendant was further asked why he had the contacts to Javad Momeni, the deputy director of Evin prison. The defendant answered that he can have any contacts he wishes, but that he does not know this person. “During our yearly meetings at Evin we used to get each other’s phone numbers, regardless of whether we had been in contact or not. That’s what you do in Iran”. Finally, the plaintiff counsel showed the defendant a picture of a text message sent from his cellphone to Ali Mobasheri, whom several plaintiffs claim served as a substitute for judge Hossein-Ali Nayyeri in the so-called death committee. The defendant responded that Mobasheri was working as a judge at the revolutionary court while he worked in Evin prison and that he used to invite Mobasheri to dinners. The defendant also replied that the information about Mobasheri forming part of the death committee origins from the book written by plaintiff 1, and that the information was incorrect. 

After a short break, the plaintiff counsel Göran Hjalmarsson continued with his questions. 

Hjalmarsson started by asking the defendant about his relationship with the prisoners. He pointed out that the defendant has described the prisoners almost as family members, while simultaneously expressing a strong aversion against members of the MEK. The defendant replied that he liked every single one of the prisoners because they were Iranians, but that he was a true enemy of the people who attacked Iran on 3 Mordad 1367 (25 July 1988) during the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq.  Hjalmarsson also asked the defendant if he recognized any of the plaintiffs who had been questioned in court. The defendant answered that he did not recognize any of them. 

The hearing continued with plaintiff counsel Ghita Hadding Wiberg questioning the defendant. She asked whether the defendant thought that the claim by plaintiffs and witnesses about them being imprisoned during Mordad 1367 (July 1988) could be true. The defendant replied that “you should know by now, I am hesitant. The only way to find out is to send a request [regarding their imprisonment] to Iranian prisons”. 

The privately appointed plaintiff counsel’s hearing with the defendant on 1 and 2 December 

After the other three plaintiff counsels finished their hearings with the defendant, the privately appointed plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis seized the floor to commence his hearing of the defendant. However, the hearing started only 15 minutes before the end of the trial day and therefore the judge informed the counsel that he would have to continue the rest of his hearing during the following trial day. 

The counsel began by asking the defendant if Khomeini had issued a fatwa against the MEK in connection to the attack of Iran the 3 Mordad 1367 (25 July 1988). He further asked whether the defendant knew the difference between the two terms: “hoqm” (which Lewis described as a “decree”) and “fatwa”. The defendant replied that the word “fatwa” is an Arabic term originating from the Quran, which is very complicated. “They [fatwas] are issued by religious Muslims in Iran. One of them were Ayatollah Khomeini”. Lewis also asked the defendant if it is common that these two terms, “hoqm” and “fatwa”, are mixed up by native Farsi speakers. The defendant affirmed that it was. The counsel then showed the defendant a quote from Mohammad Yazdi, a Shia Muslim imam and supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, which said ”Imam Khomeini’s legally written decree condemned the MEK as an organisation rather than separate members”. The counsel explained that the quote by Mohammad Yazdi meant that he understood Ayatollah Khomeini’s execution order as an order to take measures against any MEK-member, regardless of their individual actions. The defendant was asked if he thought that Mohammad Yazdi was lying. The defendant replied that “He does not lie, but you do. This is defamation of him”. Judge Zander then interrupted and asked where the quote had been collected and whether it had previously been introduced to the police or the court. The private counsel replied that the quote came from the Iranian newspaper Ettelaat, published on 30 May 1990.  The judge objected and explained that the defendant cannot be confronted with new material without the defendant and his counsels first being given the opportunity to read through the material and discuss it. The counsel was asked to present the material again during a supplementary hearing with the defendant in February.

Before the trial day was concluded, prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson asked to express a few final words, upon which she expressed that she did not appreciate the defendant calling counsel Lewis a liar. Lewis replied that “I will call him a liar as well, so, I don’t get offended”. Judge Zander asked the defendant to act more respectfully during the following trial day.  

Plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis continued his hearing with the defendant the following day. The previous trial day, the counsel had been asked by Judge Zander to not introduce new material during his hearing which had not previously been introduced as evidence. Today, the counsel pointed out that the court had in fact been introduced to new evidence previously during the trial thus far and that none of the actors of the court had objected to that. Defense counsel Thomas Söderqvist took the floor and told the court that the defense team strongly objected to new evidence being introduced in court without previously being presented to the defense and that it is an “elementary procedural safeguard to be able to process the material beforehand with your client.” He further underlined that there was a difference to the example that Lewis had given, as his client, in his position as the defendant, was in a more vulnerable situation than a plaintiff. “I think the defense team has been flexible, but we have to draw our line here”, he said. Judge Zander replied that he has respect for their opinion and that if new material were to be presented to the court, it would have to be done during the supplementary hearing with the defendant in February. 

Plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis then began his questioning of the defendant by asking him about Ayatollah Montazeri. The counsel asked whether the defendant thought that Montazeri had been designated to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini, but that Montazeri had turned against the Islamic Republic and started to sympathise with the MEK instead. The defendant responded that it was because of a decision by the Islamic Republic to execute Montazeri’s son in law that Montazeri had started to feel a resistance against Khomeini. The different political groups had then started to court him, which he had been impacted by. According to the defendant, Ayatollah Khomeini had then written a letter to Montazeri saying that he was no longer a worthy successor to him. 

The defendant was further asked whether the MEK was forbidden as an organisation before 30 Khordad 1360 (20 June 1981), which the defendant claim is the day that the MEK declared war against the Iranian regime. The defendant replied that he is not sure exactly when the organisation became prohibited by the regime. The private counsel asked the defendant whether he was aware that several of the plaintiffs had been arrested because of their sympathies for the MEK, even before 1360. He further asked whether the defendant was aware that seventy MEK-members had been murdered by “his friends” in the revolutionary guard before the year 1360 (1981). The defendant replied that these were lies and that it was the MEK that had killed the guards and the Iranian people. The counsel then told the court about a book published by the MEK, containing the names of 1304 people that died during the operation “Eternal Light” in 1367 (1988). The private counsel asked the defendant why the organisation would have published a list of people that died in the attack if they, as claimed by the defendant, were conspiring to claim that those killed in the attack were executed in prison. The defendant said that he could not answer since he had not read the book. The private counsel continued confronting the defendant at a rapid pace until judge Zander asked the counsel to ease his temper. The counsel replied that “I get irritated when I don’t get any answers”. Judge Zander demanded fifteen minutes break to recover order in the court room. 

After the break, the counsel brought up the audio file which other plaintiff counsels had mentioned during the previous trial day and asked whether the defendant recognized Naserian’s voice. The defendant replied that he does not believe that the audio file can validly be used as evidence, and that the information expressed on the audio file is incoherent. According to the defendant, Naserian allegedly says on the tape that the defendant had held the position as his secretary since 1360. The defendant pointed out that this was not possible, as he was doing his military service in 1360. Judge Zander then turned to the prosecution and asked whether it had taken part of the mentioned audio file. Prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson confirmed that they had but that they had not introduced the file as evidence in the case, as they were not able to verify who were talking on the file. She further noted that the prosecution’s assessment did not stop others from having another opinion about the evidentiary value of the audio file. 

The private counsel Kenneth Lewis then moved on to question the defendant about his military service and whether the “Jahad” force, which the defendant had previously said that he had formed part of, was organized within the regular military or under the revolutionary guard. The defendant replied that it was neither of them. Instead, he explained, the “Jahad” forces served as a backup to the revolutionary guard and worked with reconstruction of villages. The defendant further explained that both the regular army and the revolutionary guards served at the fronts, and that the “Jahad” initiated their support when the war was over. The counsel then asked whether the defendant knew that the MEK had condemned Iraq’s attack against Iran and that the organisation had sent its forces to the fronts. The defendant answered that he did not believe this, and that even if they did, it was only to betray the Iranian Republic and to gather information for the organisation. 

Towards the end of the plaintiff counsel’s hearing with the defendant, the counsel asked whether it was correct that the defendant had claimed that MEK-members had been publicly offended and humiliated in a TV-show, in order to push them to testify in the trial in Sweden. The defendant replied that Plaintiff 1 had guested a show on the Iranian TV-channel Mihan TV, and that he had there insulted the MEK and questioned why the organisation did not let its members testify against the defendant. When the counsel asked how offending people could make them agree to testify in this case, the defendant replied that the counsel did not understand as he was not familiar Iranian culture. The counsel said that, according to his information, the MEK, through the international human rights organisation Amnesty, had provided a lot of people who were willing to testify against the defendant. Finally, the counsel asked the defendant a question which he claimed originated from an Iranian saying: “When will you stop riding the donkey of Satan?” Judge Zander was not pleased with the counsel’s final question and explained that he did not consider the question to be in accordance with “generally accepted legal practice”. The judge further apologized to the defendant on behalf of the counsel. The counsel apologized as well and said that his question had been an “expression of his frustration”. 

The defense counsels’ hearing with the defendant on 2 December 

After a lunch break, the floor was handed over to the defense team. Defense counsel Daniel Marcus led the hearing and began by explaining that the defense team would limit their questions, so that the defendant would not have to repeat himself. The first question regarded the defendant’s basic stance to the prosecutions’ claim that the defendant has worked as a “dadyar” in Gohardasht prison. The defendant answered that he has never been a “dadyar”, that he has only been employed at Evin prison and that he was on parental leave when the events that form part of the charges allegedly took place. 

The defense counsel then moved on to questions regarding the alias “Abbasi” and asked the defendant whether he got in contact with others called “Abbasi” when he worked in Evin prison. The defendant replied that he did. Marcus then showcased an image of a list from the Iran Tribunal with names of people who were executed in Iran in 1988. The list contained several people named “Abbasi”, “Abbas” and “Abbasian”. The defense counsel then asked the defendant whether he thought that the name “Abbasi” was common in Iran during that point in time, to which the defendant replied, “very common”.  

The defendant was further asked about the blindfolds that prisoners had to wear and whether it was correct that the blindfolds were handed over to the prisoners by the guards when the prisoners exited their sections. The defendant explained that this was correct and that the blindfolds were produced in a “crafts workshop” by prisoners in Evin. The blindfolds all had the same shape and color. Marcus also asked the defendant if he thought that the prisoners could choose their own blindfold, referring to the claims of several plaintiffs who had explained that they had manipulated their own blindfolds so they could see through them. The defendant explained that, during his ten years in Evin prison and his “few visits” to Ghezel Hesar and “Rajai-Shahr” prison, he had never seen a blindfold that was not one of the ones produced in prison and of the same model as the others. 

Towards the end of the hearing, the defense counsel asked the defendant to express his point of view regarding the model of Gohardasht prison that had been brought to the court room in Stockholm from Durres. The defendant then stood next to the model and pointed out where he thought that the plaintiffs had been wrong about the design of the prison premises. The prosecution objected and said that the defendant should be allowed to express his own ideas about the design of the model of Gohardasht prison, but that he should not comment on what others have said. The defense counsel replied that the defense team ”accepted this model late in the process” and that they think it is “reasonable that the defendant gets a chance to refute this in some kind of way…”. The judge allowed the defendant to continue. 

Judge Zander concluded the hearing with the defendant by stating that there was time reserved for supplementary hearings with the defendant at the end of February. The prosecution and the plaintiff counsels all requested time for questions to the defendant in February. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of hearings with witnesses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 which were held on 7, 9, 10, 13, 15 and 16 December.

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