Report 21: Witness hearings 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 a summary of hearings with the witnesses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. In this report we will provide summaries of hearings with witnesses 8 and 9 held on 20 and 22 December. The hearing with witness 9 took place on the last trial day before the court went on leave for the holidays. The next trial day is on 11 January. 

Witness 8

The prosecution began their hearing by asking the witness where and why he was arrested and where and when he had served his prison sentence. The witness told the court that he was brought to Evin prison in 1359 (1980) at an age of 19 and sentenced to life-time imprisonment. He further explained that he was arrested because of his sympathies for the organisation Forqan. The witness described Forqan as an organisation adhering to an Islamist ideology, which opposed the Islamic Republic. The witness spent two years in Evin prison before he was transferred to Ghezel Hesar prison, where he stayed until 1365 (1986). He was then transferred back to Evin prison before he, in the month of Bahman 1366 (1988), was transferred together with his section mates to Gohardasht prison. In Bahman 1367 the witness was again taken to Evin prison from where he was released in the month of Ordibehesht 1370 (1991). 

The witness was further asked by the prosecution about the situation upon his arrival to Gohardasht prison. The witness explained that he and the other prisoners were on a hunger strike at the time of the transfer to Gohardasht prison. When they arrived, they were surrounded by guards, who “came from all directions” and who started beating them. After being taken to a building, the prisoners were forced to undress and were separated into groups. The groups were then taken to different rooms. A guard came to the room where the witness had been placed and told the prisoners that “here at Gohardasht you have to follow the rules, and you have to end your strike.”  

In 1367, when the witness was incarcerated in Gohardasht prison, he heard that the MEK had started the military operation “Eternal Light”. After a few days, the prisoners learned that the operation was over, and the televisions were removed from each section. The prisoners experienced that the situation in Gohardasht prison was chaotic at the time. The witness further recalled how on the following Friday, the national prayer was conducted by Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, who held the position as Chief of Justice at the time. Ardebili spoke in harsh terms about the MEK and, according to the witness, had said that “imprisoned ‘monafeqins’ will be executed”. 

The witness further recalled how he encountered the defendant in Gohardasht prison in the month of either Shahrivar or Mehr 1367 (1988). Ayatollah Khomeini had recently issued a fatwa that allowed chess playing and music, so the witness asked the defendant, who had come to the section where the witness was placed, if this meant that the prisoners could also play chess and “whether it was halal”. The witness explained how the defendant had sneered at them and told them that “chess is allowed for the people in the society” and not for them. 

The witness recounted another situation where he had met with the defendant in Gohardasht prison. The witness began by explaining to the court that he had first received a life-time sentence in Ghezel Hesar prison in 1364 (1985) after a trial that took no longer than two minutes to conclude. About a month after he had received the sentence, his sentence was limited to eight years. Returning to the events in 1367, the witness said that he was taken to a room where the defendant sat. The defendant asked the witness to sign a few papers, from which the witness found out that his 8 years sentence had changed to 15 years. The defendant had explained to the witness that this was due to a decision from Ayatollah Khomeini. He also said “just pray that you walk out of here alive… The sentences could change again at any time”. The witness signed the papers. 

Like previous witnesses before him, Witness 8 described how family visits were reintroduced after the execution period in 1367 (1988) and that the visits took place in the hall that had been used for executions in Gohardasht prison. The witness told the court that he did not like to talk about these memories as it had been the worst time during his eleven years in prison. The only reason he spoke about this, the witness said, was because he wanted to say that Naserian and Hamid Abbasi were present at the time. The witness recounted memories from a visit he had from his mother and how he tried to communicate to his mother that they had executed his friends in the same room that they were in. “You could compare Naserian and Hamid Abbasi to victorious commanders that had won a war and walked over dead bodies”. 

The defense team focused its hearing with the witness on perceived discrepancies between the statements made by the witness in court and statements made during his hearing with the Swedish police. The defense team also brought up books written by Plaintiff 1 and asked whether the witness had read them. The witness said that he had read most of them since he is a “book enthusiast”.

Witness 9

The prosecution began their hearing by asking the witness where and why he was arrested and where and when he had served his prison sentence. The witness told the court that he was brought to Evin prison in the month of Mehr 1359 (1980) and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was arrested because of his activities within the “minority phalange” of the organisation Fadaian (“Sazman-e Fadaian Aqaliyat”), which was a Marxist- socialistic organisation. The witness’ wife was also an activist and was arrested together with him. At the time of their arrest, their child was two weeks old. The witness spent about three years in Evin prison before he was transferred to Ghezel Hesar prison in the month of Bahman 1362 (1984). In 1365 (1986) he was transferred to Gohardasht prison, where he stayed until Shahrivar 1367 (1988), when he was transferred back to Evin.  

The prosecution then moved on to ask the witness about which sections in Gohardasht prison that he was placed in. The witness then got up out of his seat and stepped towards the model of Gohardasht prison to demonstrate. The defendant then rose from his seat to catch a look at the witness’ presentation but was quickly grabbed by the arm by one of the court guards, who shoved him back into his seat. The defendant exclaimed that, “I am the one that should be able to understand what he [the witness] says”. Judge Zander replied that this was correct, and that the defendant was welcome to stand up.

The prosecution further asked the witness about the situation in Gohardasht prison during the month of Shahrivar 1367 (1988). The witness answered that, as far as he could remember, the prisoners received their last family visits in the month of Tir, about two months before the mass executions began. He explained that the prisoners could feel that something had changed in the atmosphere: “their presence [the guards] was obvious, we knew that they were listening to us. It was planned to create fear”. The witness also described that they no longer had a TV, but that they were able to listen to the Islamic Republic’s radio broadcast through the radio in the main corridor. At this point, the prisoners were no longer allowed to meet each other in the prison yard, but would transfer information between the sections by using morse code. 

The witness further recounted an event that took place in Gohardasht prison in the months of Shahrivar 1367 (1988). The witness explained to the court that guards had stormed the section where he was placed and brought with them all the prisoners from that section. Naserian and Lashkari were among those guards, and Lashkari was the one who brought the witness out of the section. When the prisoners had been transferred through the prison, they were taken into a room one by one. Once inside the room, the witness was told to remove his blindfold. In that room he noticed Naserian, Nayeri and two people he later identified as Pourmohammadi and Eshraqi. Naserian told the others that the witness was a person who stands by his opinions and “leads the way for others”. Eshraqi explained that they, the men in the room, were a committee that had arrived to Gohardasht prison to “separate and rank” the prisoners. The witness was asked questions about his family by the committee. They noted that the witness had a different surname and asked about whether the witness’ father was a Muslim. The witness replied that he was not from a Muslim family and that they were Armenian. The witness was then told by Nayeri to perform his prayers, even though the witness had said that he did not know the verses.

The day after he was brought to the death committee, he was taken to another new prison cell where four other prisoners were being kept. As the prisoners exchanged information, they understood that executions were on-going. The prisoners discussed amongst each other whether they should agree to do the prayers or not: “or they will probably punish us all”. The witness suggested that they should show resistance and see how far the prison management would go. All the prisoners in the room agreed to try to demonstrate defiance. The following morning, Naserian, together with a few guards, entered the witness’ cell and asked if they agreed to pray. Two of the prisoners in the room said that they would. “Fear was everywhere, they had gotten scared”. The witness and the two other prisoners, that did not agree to the religious oppression, were taken out of the room and transferred into a corridor outside their cell. The witness described how he was tied to a bunk wearing a blindfold. He heard a voice above his head saying “God, I hit this man in your honor” as a guard started flogging his feet. The witness was hit ten times with a cable against the soles of his feet so that they split. When the flogging was over, the guard told him to walk a distance across the floor and back. “They used to do this, otherwise you get bruises, and they did not want you have hematomas in the blood vessels”. As the witness and one of the other prisoners were taken back to their room, they again discussed if they could bear to continue to resist, as the torture would repeat each time it was time to pray during a day. The witness and his cell mate were flogged on their already battered feats one more time during that day. As it was time for the afternoon pray, they both agreed to pray and were subsequently left alone. “Their intention was to break us down, and they had succeeded”. 

The defense counsel Daniel Marcus led the defense teams’ hearing with the witness. The counsel’s hearing focused on an article that the witness had written about the 1988 mass-executions and that was published in the Iranian journal “Kar” in 2013. The counsel pointed to the fact that the witness had mentioned several prison managers, among others Naserian and Lashkari, but that he had not mentioned the defendant’s name. The witness replied that he had no intention of mentioning every name. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with witnesses 10 and 11 which will be held on 11 and 12 January. 

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