Report 22: Witness hearings 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 a summary of hearings with the witnesses 8 and 9. In this report we will provide summaries of hearings with witnesses 10 and 11 held on 11 and 12 January. The next trial day is on 20 January.  

Witness 10

The trial day was opened by judge Zander, stating that the witness would be heard about his observations from Gohardasht prison during 1987-1989 and from Evin prison during 1989. The prosecution then began their hearing of the witness and asked where and why he was arrested and where and when he served his prison sentence. 

The witness told the court that he was first arrested in the month of Farvardin 1981. This was due to his sympathies for a communist organisation by the name of Vahdat Komonisti. The witness managed to escape from prison a couple of months after he was first arrested.  When he got out, he continued with political activities and worked at a factory under false identification. Four months later, in the month of Aban 1981, he was again identified and arrested. By that time, the witness was still a sympathiser of Vahdat Komonisti. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. The witness recounted how the man who had identified him the second time he was arrested, was a man whom he had met previously when he studied abroad at a university in Chicago. The witness explained that this man was as a “Muslim student” and a member of an Islamic organisation when they studied at the YMCA university in Chicago. When the witness had been sentenced to prison after his second arrest, it was because of political statements that he had made during his study period in Chicago, which had been overheard by the student who had recognized him prior to his arrest. The witness served his prison sentence in Evin, Ghezel Hesar and Gohardasht prison. He arrived at Gohardasht prison in 1986 and was incarcerated there until the month of Aban 1988 when he, together with other survivors of the massacre, was moved to Evin prison. The witness was released from Evin prison in 1989. 

The prosecution moved on to ask the witness about who he remembered from the prison management at Gohardasht. The witness mentioned ”Lashkari” and ”Noury”. When the witness was asked whether the man who the prosecution claim is the defendant was called Noury in prison, the witness responded  that he went by the name “Abbasi”. The witness had learnt of the name Noury when he heard the news about the defendant’s arrest at Arlanda airport. The witness further described that Lashkari oversaw the administration in Gohardasht prison while the defendant, the “dadyar”, took the overall decisions. He also explained that the defendant “for a brief period” was assistant to Naserian who was also a “dadyar”. The witness had seen both Naserian and the defendant without wearing a blindfold and explained that Naserian was shorter and “chubbier” than the defendant. He could also separate the two by their voices, “[The defendant] had a low-key voice, while Naserian’s was harsh”. 

The witness described the occasions when he had met the defendant in Gohardasht prison. One episode he told the court about was in connection to the Iranian New Years-celebration “Nowrooz” in 1987. The witness recounted how he had planted seeds to grow into sprouts, as part of Nowrooz celebration tradition, and how he had brought the planted seeds with him to the prison yard “so that the seeds could grow better in the sun.” This was seen by a guard who alerted the defendant. The defendant had then instructed the guard to collect the plant and the one who had grown it. When the witness was brought to him, the defendant had yelled and kicked him for planting the seeds, before transferring him to solitary confinement where he was kept for one month. 

The witness testified that he was taken to the so-called death corridor “3-4 times” during his incarceration in Gohardasht prison. During one of these visits, he was also taken by the defendant to the “death committee”. The witness described how he was beaten by Noury, Lashkari and a guard in connection to being brought before the committee. They flogged him with a 3 to 4 cm wide cable a total of 60 times. When they were done, the witness looked like a corpse; bloody and injured. The witness explained that he received this punishment because he was one of the prisoners who was the most active in spreading the news about the executions to other prisoners. The prosecution pointed out that the witness had not said in his previous hearings with the police that the defendant had participated in the abuse against him. The witness answered that ”the brain is no computer. During eight years I experienced horrible things. I am damaged both in my body and my head. The more I explain, the more I remember.” 

When the prosecution had finalized their hearing with the witness, the plaintiff counsels commenced with their questions. Plaintiff counsel Göran Hjalmarsson asked the witness whether he had seen a truck in connection to the execution period at Gohardasht prison. The witness pointed to the model of the Gohardasht prison that is situated inside the court room in Stockholm and said that “we did not see much of the truck, but we saw a couple of people that disinfected [the truck]. The sections closest to the car could feel the smell of dead bodies and informed the rest of us about this.

Defense counsel Thomas Söderqvist led the defense team’s hearing with the witness, which focused on the perceived discrepancies between the statements made by the witness in court and statements made during his hearing with the Swedish police. The defense counsel asked the witness several questions about the model and material of the truck he had seen outside Gohardasht prison. When the witness gave uncertain answers, Söderqvist confronted him and said that he had answered these questions during the police hearing. The witness replied that he could not give a certain answer, but that he thought that the loading platform of the truck was wrapped in tarp.   

Witness 11

The prosecution began their hearing with witness 11 by asking  where and why he was arrested and where and when he had served his prison sentence. The witness explained that he was an active member of the Marxist-Leninist organisation Peykar. The night he was arrested, he was handing out flyers with a friend from the organisation. After the arrest, he and his friend were taken to the “local committee” and then to Evin prison in the month of Esfand 1359 (1980). Two months later, the witness was brought to court and asked whether he would continue his political activities if he were to be released, upon which he responded that he would. Three months later, the witness was given his verdict. The witness explained that, according to the documents, he had been handed a conditional sentence, “I should have been released… but the prison manager said I had to condemn my organisation which I did not do…”. 

The witness was first incarcerated in Evin prison, from the beginning of 1360 (1981) until the month of Tir the same year. Since there was an acute  need for space in the prison, the witness, together with 60 other prisoners, was moved to Ghezel Hesar prison. He was then among the first prisoners to be transferred to Gohardasht prison. The witness spent two years in solitary confinement there, sometimes alone and sometimes together with another prisoner. In 1364 (1985), he was moved back to Evin prison where he stayed until the spring of 1367 (1988) upon which he was moved back to Gohardasht prison, together with the other “melli-kesh” prisoners. The prosecution asked the witness about the term “melli-kesh”. The witness explained that he was one of the first to be called a “melli-kesh” prisoner and that the term referred to those who were serving prison without a valid sentenced and that, as such, they were serving their sentence “for the nation”. The witness was released after eight years in prison, in the month of Esfand 1367 (1989).

The prosecution moved on to ask the witness about the prison management during his time in Gohardasht prison in the beginning of 1367 (1988). The witness explained that the day he was transferred to Gohardasht prison, he was taken to a section and his belongings were taken from him. Shortly after he, together with other prisoners, was taken there, guards came in and looked at the prisoners intensely. The prisoners understood that they were looking for people that they could recognize. The witness did not know these guards, but other prisoners who had spent time at Gohardasht before explained to him that this was the prison manager Naserian and the “dadyar” Abbasi. 

The witness further recalled how the newspapers and visits had been withdrawn in Gohardasht prison during the month of Mordad and Shahrivar 1367 (July-September 1988). Prisoners were not allowed to visit the infirmary and their food was delivered without contact between the guards and prisoners. The prisoners were completely isolated from the outer world. When the prisoners occasionally would hear radio broadcasts they therefore listened carefully, to try to understand something about their situation. They could hear the national Friday prayer conducted by Rafsanjani, who was the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. In his sermon, Rafsanjani said that if the prisoners did not “adapt to the [Islamic] revolution”, there would be consequences. 

At the time, the prisoners would communicate between different sections by using morse code. Through morse code, the witness and his cellmates received the information that executions were ongoing in Gohardasht prison. A couple of days after they had received this information, the witness was amongst a group of prisoners that was taken out of their section by Lashkari and some guards. The guards took them to the so-called death committee where they were asked if they were Muslim and if they did their prayers. In the room where the death committee presided, the witness saw the defendant together with Naserian. The questioning by the death committee took about ten minutes, after which the witness was brought to a cell by the defendant, where he was alone. A few days later, he was moved to a hall room together with several other prisoners. The guards, among them Davoud Lashkari, threatened them by saying that they would all be taken to the “amphitheater”. 

The prosecution further asked the witness if he was taken to the “dadyari” office when he was about to be released from prison, as several witnesses before him have described that they were. The witness answered that the prisoners who had been transferred to Evin together with him towards the end of his imprisonment,  had not been released one by one. One day, the  guards simply gathered them and placed them on buses which drove them to an area in Teheran. The prisoners were told to get out of the buses outside an UN-building. The witness saw that one of the other prisoners was reading something out loud outside of the building, which the witness understood as some sort of statement directed to the UN. The witness did not hear what was being read, as his and the other prisoners’ families and friends had gathered around them. He then understood that they had been released. 

By the end of the hearing, the prosecution asked the witness to describe what Abbasi looked like when the witness had seen him in Gohardasht prison. The witness said that “he looked young; 30-32 years old. He had soft hair. Except that, I remember his eyes.” When the prosecution asked if there was something special with his eyes, the witness replied that when he had seen Abbasi in the room of the death committee, he had thought that they would take him to the amphitheater and execute him: “[W]hen I looked into his eyes I saw a glimpse of joy, as if he had defeated me. That picture has followed me for years.” 

Defense counsel Daniel Marcus led the defense team’s hearing with the witness. 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 counsel pointed out that the witness had called himself “a veteran of Gohardasht prison”, since he had been incarcerated there for many years. Yet, Marcus noted, the witness had trouble telling the court where in prison he was positioned during the events he recounted, since he was wearing a blindfold and since he had not “moved around a lot in the corridors.” The witness replied that during the execution period he had been too afraid to understand where he was taken, therefore he could not answer where the room where the death committee presided in Gohardasht prison was located. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with witnesses 12 and 13 which will be held on 20 and 21 January. 

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